So many people needed President Andrew Jackson’s initial reception that he is said to have escaped the White House through a window. President John F. Kennedy hired a friend from the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra, to host the entertainment when he took office. And well, Obama danced to Beyoncé.
The transfer of presidential power to the United States has always been a signature political event, but over the centuries it has also evolved into an important cultural cornerstone – a whirlwind of parades, celebrations and performances that shed light every four years on the nation’s culture , the taste of its leaders and the images they seek to project.
On Wednesday, Mr Biden’s inaugural committee announced that it would host a January 20 high-profile televised event featuring celebrities including Tom Hanks, Justin Timberlake and Jon Bon Jovi, aiming to “showcase the resilience, heroism and overall commitment to work together as a nation to heal and rebuild. ”
With crowds urged to stay home so as not to spread the virus, even before a violent mob had tried to block the certification of the election, Mr.Biden’s inauguration promised to get a different look, tone and feeling from his predecessors.
“All introductory activities follow a fairly standard series of events,” said Lina Mann, a historian at the White House Historical Association. “You have the parade, you have been to the Capitol, you have the speakers, you have you, and then of course you have introductory balls. These have been standard for over 200 years. This will definitely look very different than that. ”
As the country prepares to usher in the Biden era with a series of atypical inauguration events conceived to meet today’s grim needs, here’s a look at how politics has crossed with culture in some of the historically-initiated introductory moments of the past.
From Dolley Madison to Teddy Roosevelt
It was the glittering ball that Dolley Madison held in 1809 at the inauguration of her husband, James – the first opening ball held in the new capital, Washington – that helped set the standard for turning initiations into social events. .
Two decades later, President Andrew Jackson allowed an estimated 20,000 people to attend a public reception tied to his inauguration. It turned out to be a couple too many attendees, which got his reported escape through a White House window.
Congestion also tarnished the ball, which President Ulysses S. Grant had reluctantly agreed to hold in 1869. A reporter for The New York Times wrote a postscript to his article on the chaos and crowds at 2 o’clock. “It opened:” The scene at the ball now confuses all description . ”
And at President Theodore Roosevelt’s second inauguration, the parade playlist showcased “There will be a hot time in the old town tonight,” and among the marchers were cowboys; Native Americans, including Geronimo; delegations from Puerto Rico and the Philippines; and Harvard undergrads. “If there was any kind of American life that was not represented in the three and a half hours of roaring enthusiasm that boiled down the avenue,” wrote The Times, “it is not easily remembered.”
JFK and Reagan are gaining stellar power
President John F. Kennedy was able to recruit an A-list to produce his inaugural concert and a gala: Sinatra.
Mrs Mann, the historian, said she saw the entertainment at Kennedy’s inauguration – with Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein, Sidney Poitier, Ethel Merman, Harry Belafonte and other giant stars – as a “big moment” that would set the stage for it. type of glamorous, multi-faceted introductory blowouts that Americans have come to expect.
Despite a blizzard disrupting the festivities, a contemporary report described the gala as “perhaps one of the most amazing collections of theatrical talent ever gathered through a single show.”
Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood actor, found himself on no fewer than eight balls, rubbing shoulders with stars like Charlton Heston, as Tony Bennett, Lou Rawls and Ray Charles performed.
“The aura of big money was everywhere,” wrote The Times. “Expensive dresses by James Galanos, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, unprecedented $ 100 dance tickets to music by Count Basie and other big bands.”
A Clinton mega-concert
In the ensuing years, most presidents held a kind of introductory 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 fanfare from the Kennedy and Reagan festivities.
In 1993, the Clinton team, like Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Kathleen Battle, Kenny G. and Ray Charles, staged a mega-concert at the Lincoln Memorial, as critic Jon Pareles wrote in The Times, “promised unity through crossover. ”
With Bush, the exercise becomes political
If the events of 2001 in honor of President George W. Bush’s inauguration had any less stellar power – The Times described the sentiment as “almost anti-Hollywood” – they still featured pop superstars and country singers, including Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson.
And in a taste of the things to come, the question of whether to perform was increasingly seen as a political decision.
“This is a very biased act,” said Robi Draco Rosa, a friend of Mr. Martin and the author of hit songs like “Livin ‘la Vida Loca”. “This is a betrayal of everything that every Puerto Rican has to stand for.”
Obama leans toward music as he breaks barriers
President Barack Obama attended 10 opening balls in 2009, but one stands out: Neighborhood Ball. Michelle was a chocolate brown vision in her flowing white dress, and at our first stop I took her in my arms and spun her around and whispered stupid things in her ear as we danced to a sublime rendition of ‘At Last’ sung by Beyoncé , ”He wrote in his recently published memoir,“ A Promised Land. ”
It was another star-studded inauguration. Aretha Franklin sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the induction ceremony. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Kanye West all also had parts to play in the events.
“Mr. Obama’s inaugural events, which sought to involve everyone, were flooded with African-American souls like the rest of American pop culture,” Mr. Pareles wrote in The Times.
Some artists reject Trump, others mock
In the run-up to President Trump’s inauguration, the news centered as much on the stars who decided not to act as those who agreed.
Elton John rejected Mr. Trump’s invitation to play at his inauguration. Andrea Bocelli, who was rumored to be performing, ended up not showing up as the inaugural team struggled to book artists. Rockettes attended, but only after being engulfed in controversy when a dancer complained that she was forced to perform.
Eventually, the opening featured 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 it “flipped between jingoism and vaudevillian fluff and largely ignored African Americans’ contributions to popular music (that is, almost all popular music).”
Now Mr. Biden, a man who has wanted to be president for decades, to prepare to write his own entry into introductory history. His version lacks the bubbly parades and sparkling indoor balls of past festivities. But the task for him is as challenging as ever: uniting and entertaining a nervous, divided American public.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.