So many people crowded to President Andrew Jackson’s inaugural reception that he was reportedly escaped from the White House through a window. President John F. Kennedy hired a Rat Pack friend, Frank Sinatra, to organize the entertainment when he took office. And the Obamas danced to Beyoncé.
The transfer of power from the President of the United States has always been a major political event, but over the centuries it has also become a major cultural touchstone – a whirlwind of parades, parties and performances that shed light on culture every four years brings to the nation. the tastes of its guides and the images they want to project.
But with the coronavirus pandemic entering a more deadly phase and Washington on the verge of the Capitol riot and warnings of further security threats, the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will necessarily be different. It will be part of a long line of national events – major sports games, the Democratic National Convention, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and New Year’s Eve in Times Square – that have been forced to shrink and adapt to a socially distant, remote world.
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden’s inaugural committee announced that there would be a prime-time television event on January 20 with celebrities including Tom Hanks, Justin Timberlake and Jon Bon Jovi, aimed at promoting “the resilience, heroism and unity of America Demonstrate people for coming together as a nation to heal and rebuild. “
With crowds asked to stay home In order not to spread the virus before a violent mob tried to block the election certificate, Mr Biden’s inauguration promises to take on a different look, tone and feel from those of his predecessors.
“All opening activities follow a fairly standard series of events,” said Lina Mann, a historian with the White House Historical Association. “You have the parade, you are in the Capitol, you have the speeches, you have oaths, and then of course you have opening balls. These have been standard for over 200 years. It will definitely look very different. “
As the country prepares to usher in the Biden era with a series of atypical opening events designed to meet the urgent needs of the day, here’s how politics crossed the past with culture in some of Biden’s storied opening moments.
From Dolley Madison to Teddy Roosevelt
It was the glittering ball that Dolley Madison held at the inauguration of her husband James in 1809 First opening ball in the new capital Washington – this has helped set the standard for the inauguration of social events.
Two decades later, President Andrew Jackson allowed an estimated 20,000 people to attend a public reception associated with his inauguration. It turned out there were a few too many attendees, which prompted his reported escape through a White House window.
Crowds also tarnished the ball, which President Ulysses S. Grant had reluctantly agreed to hold in 1869. A New York Times reporter submitted a postscript to his article on the chaos and the crowd at 2:00 am. It opened: “The scene at the ball now confuses any description.”
At President Theodore Roosevelt’s second inauguration, the parade playlist read “It’s going to be a hot time in the Old City tonight,” and there were cowboys among the protesters. Indians, including Geronimo; Delegations from Puerto Rico and the Philippines; and Harvard students. “If there was any sizable sort of American life that wasn’t represented in the three and a half hours of bubbling excitement that boiled up the avenue,” he said. The Times wrote“It’s not easy to remember.”
J.F.K. and Reagan gain star power
President John F. Kennedy, could register an A-Lister for its opening concert and gala: Sinatra.
Ms. Mann, the historian, said she saw the conversation at Kennedy’s inauguration – with Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein, Sidney Poitier, Ethel Merman, Harry Belafonte, and other big stars – as a “big moment” setting the stage For the kind of glamorous, multi-part opening blowouts Americans have come to expect.
Despite a blizzard disrupting the festivities, a contemporary report described the gala as “perhaps one of the most impressive gatherings of theater talent ever brought together on a single show”.
Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood actor, attended no fewer than eight balls and rubbed shoulders with stars like Charlton Heston as Tony Bennett, Lou Rawls and Ray Charles performed.
“The aura of big money was everywhere” The Times wrote. “Expensive dresses by James Galanos, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, unparalleled $ 100 tickets to dance to the music of Count Basie and other big bands.”
A Clinton mega-concert
In the years that followed, most presidents held some sort of opening concert and relied on artists 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 commissioned Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Kathleen Battle, Kenny G. and Ray Charles for a mega-concert at the Lincoln Memorial which, as critic Jon Pareles wrote in The Times, “promised unity through crossover. ”
With Bush, the achievement grows politically
If the 2001 events in honor of President George W. Bush’s inauguration had a little less star power – The Times described the feeling as “almost against Hollywood” – pop superstars and country singers like Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson were still too see.
And in a foretaste of things to come, the question of whether or not to occur was increasingly seen as a political choice.
“This is a very biased act,” said Robi Draco Rosa, a friend of Mr. Martin’s and the author of hits like “Livin’ la Vida Loca “. “This is a betrayal of all that every Puerto Rican should stand for.”
Obama leans on music while breaking barriers
President Barack Obama attended 10 opening balls in 2009, but one stood out: the neighborhood ball. “Michelle was a chocolate brown vision in her flowing white dress, and on our first stop, I took her in my arms and turned her around and whispered silly things in her ear as we danced to a sublime rendition of ‘At Last’, which by Beyoncé was sung, ”he wrote in his recently published treatise“ A Promised Land ”.
It was another star-studded opening. Aretha Franklin sang “My Country, Tis of Thee” at the swearing-in ceremony. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Kanye West also played a role in the events.
“Mr. Obama’s all-in-one opening events, like the rest of American pop culture, had an African-American soul,” Pareles wrote in The Times.
Some artists reject Trump, others despise
In the run-up to President Trump’s inauguration, the news focused as much on the stars who chose not to appear as it did on those who agreed.
Elton John declined Mr. Trump’s invitation to play on his inauguration. Andrea Bocelli, who was supposed to be performing, ended up not showing up when the first team struggled to book cast members. The Rockettes participated, but only after they became embroiled in controversy when a dancer complained that she was being forced to perform.
The opening event ended with some big names including Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down, and Lee Greenwood, some of whom participated in a “Make America Great Again! Welcome party. “Critic Jon Caramanica wrote in The Times that he” vacillated between jingoism and Vaudevillian fluff, largely ignoring the contribution of African American people to popular music (that is, almost all of popular music). “
Now, Mr. Biden, a man who has wanted to be president for decades, is preparing to write his own entry in the opening story. Its version will lack the lavish parades and glittering indoor balls of past celebrations. But the task ahead is still challenging: to unite and entertain a nervous, divided American public.
Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.