Bloomberg News

Obama Embraces Pop Culture as Beyonce Joins Inauguration

January 18, 2013

Beyonce

Beyonce at the 2012 BET Awards. Photographer: Jason Merritt/Getty Images via Bloomberg

President Barack Obama’s second inauguration next week will combine the star power of Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor with a lineup that reflects social values Obama will champion in his new term.

“Their music is often at the heart of the American story and speaks to folks across the country,” Obama said in a statement announcing the inaugural performers.

Obama’s second-term inauguration on Jan. 21 will be a smaller and less elaborate affair than his swearing-in as America’s first black president in 2009, with officials saying they expect fewer than half of the 1.8 million people who attended that year.

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Second inaugurations have historically been smaller than a president’s first, and planners were mindful of the nation’s struggling economy when organizing celebrations, Presidential Inaugural Committee spokesman Cameron French said.

The performance lineup is full of big names. Beyonce, the winner of 16 Grammy awards who’s famous for hit songs such as “Single Ladies” and “Halo,” will sing the national anthem during Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. Taylor, whose music harks back to the social upheavals of the 1960s, will perform “America the Beautiful.” Taylor performed at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, last year, and Beyonce hosted a $4 million Obama campaign fundraiser with her rapper husband Jay-Z in September.

Clarkson, who will sing “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” told the U.K.’s Daily Star in October that she would vote for Obama because he endorsed gay marriage even though she is a “Republican at heart.” Clarkson, the first winner of “American Idol” and a platinum recording artist, had previously written on Twitter that she supported Ron Paul, a Texas libertarian, in the presidential race and later apologized for offending her fans.

Safe Choices

The performance lineup features “safe choices” who are popular among many demographic groups and who are unlikely to offend, Mark Anthony Neal, a Duke University professor of African and African American studies, said in an interview.

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“He didn’t pick Nicki Minaj, he picked Beyonce,” Neal said, referring to rapper Minaj’s use of profanity. “James Taylor, who I would argue is the safest choice of all three, allows him to get back to those original baby boomers. So he hit all the bases there.”

While it’s Obama’s second inauguration, there’s still room for firsts. Richard Blanco will become the first Hispanic and first openly gay inaugural poet when he recites an original poem during the ceremony, according to the inaugural committee. Blanco, the award-winning author of “City of a Hundred Fires” and “Directions to The Beach of the Dead,” is also the youngest-ever inaugural poet at age 44.

First Hispanic

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will become the first Hispanic to administer an oath of office when she swears in Vice President Joseph Biden, who selected Sotomayor for the role, according to the committee.

Obama will have Chief Justice John Roberts administer his oath, following presidential precedent. Obama will be sworn in officially at the White House on Jan. 20, the date required by the Constitution, using Michelle Obama’s family bible.

The ceremony the next day, which falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, will celebrate King and the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement with two floats in the inaugural parade. Obama will take the oath using King’s traveling bible and President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural bible, the same one Obama used in his own first inaugural.

Civil Rights

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of murdered civil rights worker Medgar Evers and former head of the NAACP, the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights group, will deliver the invocation at the swearing-in ceremony.

The Reverend Louie Giglio, who was to have delivered the inaugural benediction, backed out of the ceremony after criticism of a sermon he gave in the 1990s in which he said gay marriage “would run the risk of absolutely undermining the whole order of our society.”

The Reverend Luis Leon, an Episcopal priest at St. John’s Church near the White House, will replace Giglio, according to a person involved in the inaugural planning who asked not to be identified before the selection is announced.

Other artists who will perform during the Inaugural Ball and the Kid’s Inaugural for military families include Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, “Glee” cast members, John Legend, Katy Perry, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Usher.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emma Fidel in Washington at efidel@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net


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