Biden inauguration will bring out stars, but few crowds

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So many people flocked to President Andrew Jackson’s inaugural reception that he allegedly escaped the White House through a window. President John F. Kennedy enlisted a Rat Pack friend, Frank Sinatra, to organize the entertainment when he took office. And, well, the Obamas danced on Beyoncé.

The transfer of presidential power to the United States has always been an iconic political event, but over the centuries it has also become a major cultural touchstone – a whirlwind of parades, parties and performances highlighting all four n the culture of the country, the tastes of its leaders and the images they seek to project.

But with the coronavirus pandemic entering a deadlier phase, and Washington on its nerves after the riot on Capitol Hill and warnings of even more security threats, the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be different by necessity. He will join a long line of national events – big sporting games, the Democratic National Convention, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and New Years Eve in Times Square – which have been forced to scale down and adapt to a socially distant and distant.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden’s inaugural committee announced that it will host a prime-time televised event on Jan. 20 featuring celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Justin Timberlake and Jon Bon Jovi that aims to “showcase the resilience, heroism and unified commitment of the American people to come. together as a nation to heal and rebuild.

With crowds being urged to stay at home so as not to spread the virus even before a violent crowd has attempted to block election certification, Mr Biden’s nomination promises to take on a look, tone and tone. different feel than its predecessors.

“All inaugural activities follow a fairly standard series of events,” said Lina Mann, historian at the White House Historical Association. “You’ve got the parade, you’ve been to Capitol, you have the speeches, you have oaths, and then, of course, you have inaugural balls. These have been standard for over 200 years. It will certainly be very different from that. “

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So, as the country prepares to usher in the Biden era with a series of atypical inaugural events designed to meet the urgent needs of the day, here’s a look at how politics intersected with culture at some of the inaugural moments. histories of the past.

It was the sparkling ball that Dolley Madison held in 1809 at the inauguration of her husband, James – the first inaugural ball held in the new capital, Washington – that helped set the standard for making openings social events. .

Two decades later, President Andrew Jackson allowed about 20,000 people to attend a public reception related to his inauguration. It turned out to be a bit too many attendees, prompting her to flee through a window in the White House.

Crowds also tainted the ball that President Ulysses S. Grant had reluctantly agreed to hold in 1869. A reporter for the New York Times filed a postscript to his article on chaos and the crowd at “2 a.m.” “. The ball scene now confuses all description. “

And at President Theodore Roosevelt’s second inauguration, the parade playlist read “There will be warm weather in the old town tonight,” and among the marchers were cowboys; Native Americans, including Geronimo; delegations from Puerto Rico and the Philippines; and undergraduates at Harvard. “If there was a considerable type of American life unrepresented in the three and a half hours of effervescent enthusiasm that bubbled up the avenue,” the Times wrote, “it is not easily remembered.

President John F. Kennedy was able to enlist an A-lister to produce his inaugural concert and gala: Sinatra.

Despite a snowstorm that disrupted the festivities, a contemporary report described the gala as “perhaps one of the most astonishing assemblies of theatrical talent ever to come together through one show.

Twenty years later, former Hollywood actor President Ronald Reagan found himself attending no less than eight balls, rubbing shoulders with stars like Charlton Heston, as Tony Bennett, Lou Rawls and Ray Charles performed.

“The aura of money was everywhere,” The Times wrote. “Expensive dresses from James Galanos, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, unprecedented $ 100 tickets to dance to the music of Count Basie and other great bands.”

In the years that followed, most presidents hosted some type of inaugural concert and relied on performers to add layers of musical symbolism to their inaugurations. President Bill Clinton’s team took things to a level reminiscent of the fanfare of the Kennedy and Reagan celebrations.

In 1993, the Clinton team deployed figures like Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Kathleen Battle, Kenny G. and Ray Charles for a mega concert at the Lincoln Memorial which, wrote critic Jon Pareles in The Times, “promised the unit by crossing. “

If the events of 2001 in honor of President George W. Bush’s inauguration had a little less star power – the Times described the sensation as “almost anti-Hollywood” – they still featured superstars from pop and country singers including Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson.

And, in a taste of things to come, the question of whether or not to happen was increasingly seen as a political decision.

“It’s a very partisan act,” said Robi Draco Rosa, a friend of Mr. Martin’s and the author of hit songs like “Livin ‘la Vida Loca” at the time. “It’s a betrayal of everything any Puerto Rican should stand for.”

President Barack Obama attended 10 inaugural balls in 2009, but one stood out: the neighborhood ball. “Michelle had chocolate brown eyesight in her flowing white dress, and at our first stop I hugged her and spun her around and whispered silly things in her ear as we danced on a sublime rendition of ‘Finally’ sung by Beyoncé, ”he wrote in his recently published memoir,“ A Promised Land ”.

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It was another star-studded inauguration. Aretha Franklin sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” during the swearing-in ceremony. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, and Kanye West also played roles in the events.

“Sir. Obama’s inaugural events, which strived to involve everyone, were imbued with an African-American soul like the rest of American pop culture,” Mr. Pareles wrote in The Times.

As President Trump’s inauguration approached, the news focused as much on the stars who decided not to perform as on those who agreed.

Elton John declined Mr. Trump’s invitation to perform during his inauguration. Andrea Bocelli, who was rumored to perform, ended up not appearing as the inaugural team struggled to book artists. The Rockettes took part, but only after being engulfed in controversy when a dancer complained about being forced to perform.

At the end, the grand opening featured big names including Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down and Lee Greenwood, some of whom participated in a “Make America Great Again!” Welcome celebration. Critic Jon Caramanica wrote in The Times that he “swung between jingoism and Vaudevillian fluff and largely ignored the contribution of African Americans to popular music (i.e. almost all popular music). ) ”.

Now Mr Biden, a man who has wanted to be president for decades, is preparing to write his own inaugural story. His version will miss the exuberant parades and glittering interior balloons of past celebrations. But the task ahead is as difficult as ever: to unite and entertain a nervous and divided American audience.

Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.

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