Pop Star Performances at Presidential Inaugurations: A Modern Timeline From JFK to Obama to Trump

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Beyoncé performs the National Anthem to conclude the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in of US President Barack Obama at the US Capitol on Jan. 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Around the same time the Super Bowl swapped marching bands for Billboard chart-toppers, the culture surrounding United States presidential inaugurations was changing too. After flirting with pop in the late '70s and 1980s, the early '90s marked a full-on partnership between musicians and incoming presidents -- especially if those presidents happened to share beliefs with the recording industry at large. In other words, Bill Clinton’s 1993 inaugural bash sure trumped George H. W. Bush’s from four years prior.

Given our new commander-in-chief’s struggle to secure noteworthy talent for his inauguration, we decided to look back at how this relationship between pop stars and presidents has evolved over the years. And although Mickey Rooney did sing for FDR back in 1941, we stuck to the modern, post-rock 'n' roll era, since -- let’s face it -- 2017 will probably call for more filibustering than any of us can handle.

1961: We’ll start in 1961 when one of the nation’s most influential presidents was ushered in. Below, watch Nat King Cole perform the Oklahoma! show tune “Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”

1969: Believe it or not, James Brown was on hand at Richard Nixon’s inauguration ceremony, along with the likes of Tony Bennett, Connie Francis and Dinah Shore. In an admirable effort to unite Americans, Brown performed “Say It Loud -- I’m Black and Proud” two days before the conservative president was sworn in. Only Nixon wasn’t there to see it: He was detained back in New York because of security concerns. But the Godfather of Soul still made an impression. A 1969 issue of Jet (via Ghosts of DC) reads: Soul Brother No. 1, James Brown, burst on stage saying it loud. Every time the little dynamo commanded, “Say It Loud,” a little, black cheering section to the left of stage center in the $100 seats jumped to its feet to answer back, “I’m black and I’m proud.” And pretty soon, even a few whites in the overwhelmingly white audience found themselves caught up in the unique Brown brand of musical hysteria, and they too, were saying they were black and they were proud.

1977: Back in ’77, Democrat Jimmy Carter didn’t exactly tap into the burgeoning punk and disco scenes, but he did score some premiere pop talent. Linda Ronstadt was on hand to cover Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” Loretta Lynn did a medley of her hits, and Aretha Franklin, performing at a presidential inauguration for the first time, delivered a medley of Duke Ellington songs.

1985: Ronald Reagan isn’t remembered so fondly in the music world these days, but hey, he did get The Beach Boys to perform at his second inauguration. Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston were on hand for an a cappella performance of “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring,” meant to honor the first couple.

1989: The first Bush entered the White House in 1989, and though his inauguration would soon be eclipsed by Bill Clinton’s in star power, he did boast a performance with some real star (and chart!) power. Here, watch R&B singer Anita Baker perform her biggest hit, “Giving You the Best That I Got,”  which had peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 around the time of the inauguration.

1993: Jan. 19, 1993, marked the inauguration of Bill Clinton, the first Democrat to hold office in 12 years. Musicians came out in full force for the event, arguably more so than any year before. A few days before Clinton was sworn in, a two-day festival called "America's Reunion on the Mall" was held in D.C. in honor of the country’s cultural diversity. Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Michael Bolton were on hand, but the most memorable performance was undoubtedly Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World,” which featured Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and even the Clinton family. In addition to M.J., Clinton’s victory over George H.W. Bush brought about a brief -- yet momentous -- reunion of Fleetwood Mac’s legendary Rumours-era lineup. That 1977 album’s famous single “Don’t Stop” was used throughout the campaign and at the Inaugural Ball, where ex-members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined their old bandmates for a highly anticipated performance.

2001: Much of George W. Bush’s presidency was marked by 9/11 and the polarizing years that followed, including the Iraq War. By his second inauguration, in 2005, much of the artistic community was starkly opposed to the commander-in-chief, as much of it had supported losing Democratic candidate John Kerry. But back in January 2001, the political climate was drastically different, even if Bush had just pulled off a slim, controversial win over Al Gore in the 2000 election. The new president danced along with Ricky Martin to “The Cup of Life” -- in addition to less eyebrow-raising performances from Charlotte Church, Jessica Simpson and Wayne Newton

2008: For Barack Obama’s grand entrance to the White House, pre-inauguration performances may have actually overshadowed a still-formidable schedule on the big day. That’s because of an extravaganza called "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial,” featuring the likes of Beyoncé, Garth Brooks, U2 and John Mellencamp. Backed by a choir of gospel singers, Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of his post-9/11 ode “The Rising” was specifically riveting. Inauguration day featured Aretha Franklin singing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," and later at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, Beyoncé covered Etta James’ “At Last” for the first couple’s first dance. 

2013: Barack Obama’s second inauguration was arguably more star-studded than his first. The big day featured a trio of stars singing U.S. standards: James Taylor on “America the Beautiful,” Kelly Clarkson handling "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and finally, Beyoncé singing the national anthem. That evening’s inaugural balls included performances from Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Brad Paisley, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson and more.

2017: Within the music world, Donald Trump’s inauguration was marked by opposition -- performers backing out and chatter about the president-elect’s failure to secure A-list talent. In the end, the likes of Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down and Lee Greenwood performed at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” concert, a day prior to his Jan. 20 inauguration. That day, the bill included modern classical vocalist Jackie Evancho singing the national anthem.

President Donald Trump Inauguration

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