WASHINGTON -- It was a day that combined high-minded political rhetoric with the very best of pop culture.
Tens of thousands of citizens, a throng more than
a mile long on the National Mall, braved frigid weather and long
security lines to attend a historic concert celebrating the country's
first black president -- held at the feet of the monument honoring the
country's great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.
Barack Obama and his family had what looked
like a rocking good time. They sat with Vice President-elect Joe Biden
and his wife, royalty style, in a glass-walled booth on one side of the
During the two-hour concert, broadcast on HBO, they clapped,
danced a little and sang along as they were feted by entertainment
royalty -- actors and musicians including Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks,
Jamie Foxx, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Stevie
Wonder, Usher, Will.i.am, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Shakira, James
Taylor, Garth Brooks and Pete Seeger.
Golf great Tiger Woods spoke of growing up in a military family. He
introduced the Naval Academy's glee club, which performed with soprano
Obama and Biden each spoke briefly, delivering words reminiscent
of their stump speeches -- both speaking to the anxiety that has the
country in its grip, both promising a better tomorrow.
"In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have
been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right
now," Obama said.
"But despite all of this -- despite the enormity of the task that lies
ahead -- I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States
of America will endure, that the dream of our founders will live on in
The choice of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay Episcopalian,
to give the invocation seemed to be a deliberate counterpoint to
Obama's selection of conservative evangelical Rick Warren -- an
opponent of same-sex marriage and pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange
County who is to give the prayer at Obama's swearing-in Tuesday.
Robinson urged the crowd to remember that Obama "is a human being, not
a messiah" and asked God to "keep him safe . . . that he might find joy
in this impossible calling."
Bono, the lead singer of U2, injected the only seemingly
unrehearsed political note to the day. Just after Obama's wife,
Michelle, blew him a kiss, Bono said Obama's election represented "not
just an American dream -- also an Irish dream, a European dream,
African dream, Israeli dream and also a Palestinian dream."
Though organizers had promised that songs would reflect the day's
slogan "We Are One," and not be a series of greatest hits, U2 performed
one of its most recognizable songs: "Pride (In the Name of Love)," a
paean to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King III stood on nearly the same spot where his father
delivered the famous "I have a dream" speech in 1963 that informs much
of the emotion evoked by the election of the first black president.
The son of the slain civil rights leader introduced a clip of John F.
Kennedy's inaugural speech -- with its noted line, "Ask not what your
country can do for you . . . " -- and said that today's holiday, Martin
Luther King Jr. Day, should be a day of service to others. (The Obamas
and Bidens will be celebrating the holiday by performing
yet-unannounced acts of public service.)
Actors emerged onstage in some oddball pairings: Jack Black and
Rosario Dawson talked about the environmental activism of Lincoln, who
helped create Yosemite, and Teddy Roosevelt, who doubled the number of
Steve Carell and Foxx evoked Thomas Jefferson and Thurgood Marshall.
Foxx did an impersonation of Obama that quoted from his speech at
Chicago's Grant Park the night he won the presidential election. He
also gave a shout-out to the new president's adopted hometown:
"Chi-town stand up!" said Foxx. "312!"
As Chicagoans in the vast crowd cheered in recognition of their area code, the Obamas stood up and waved.
Queen Latifah spoke about "the ongoing journey of America to be
America." She noted that in 1939 the great black contralto Marian
Anderson had been denied the opportunity to perform at Constitution
Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, prompting then-First
Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to arrange for Anderson to sing on the steps of
the Lincoln Memorial.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson quoted Rosa Parks; Hanks quoted Lincoln.
"I got one question," said comedian George Lopez, who was paired onstage with actor Kal Penn. "Anyone here from outta town?"
As the crowd roared, Lopez said, "Well, you're all home now."
In a day with many high points, the crowd -- reverentially quiet during
the spoken word segments -- went especially wild for Garth Brooks'
rendition of "American Pie." When he hit the first lines of the chorus
-- "So, bye, bye, Miss American Pie" -- many of the dignitaries sitting
in front of the stage leaped to their feet to sing and clap. The group
included Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Atty. Gen.-designate Eric
Holder, U.N. Ambassador-designate Susan Rice and former Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright.
Then, Brooks segued into "Shout," and the crowd got even louder.
Toward the end of the afternoon, Springsteen, who had opened the
show singing "The Rising" with a choir behind him, returned to the
stage with Pete Seeger to engage the crowd in a sing-along of Woodie
Guthrie's iconic folk song "This Land Is Your Land."
After Beyonce sang "America the Beautiful," the day's performers
filed back onto the stage, and the Obamas and Bidens proceeded to shake
hands, as if they were working some kind of dream rope line.
"It makes you believe in dreams," Danielle Wielding, a 25-year-old
Chicago native who lives in Baltimore, said of the event. Wielding had
arrived at the mall at 9 a.m. and was moved to tears, she said.
"I have dreams," Wielding said, "and all of this -- the setting, the
music, the Obamas -- make me believe those dreams are possible."
Big Stars Rock Lincoln Memorial as Inauguration Festivities Begin
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