After nearly a year of cloistering at home to hide from the COVID-19 pandemic, a bitterly divisive presidential election and the shocking images of Trump supporters storming and attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, it’s safe to say that many Americans are looking for a reason to celebrate what unites us.
That excuse to set aside our differences could come on Wednesday (Jan. 20) when some of the biggest artists in rock and pop will come together to celebrate the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Sen. Kamala Harris. It will be a historic day for the nation, honoring the country’s first female and Black and South Asian veep, as well as the long, storied rise of Biden to the nation’s highest office.
And while the pandemic has caused a drastic reshaping of the traditional inaugural festivities — stripping them of the usual pomp and circumstance and denying hundreds of thousands of citizens the chance to celebrate the event in person in Washington, D.C. — the Biden/Harris inaugural committee has promised a superstar kickoff to what the administration has promised will be four years of reconciliation, rebuilding and rebirth.
The vibe is very different from Trump’s inauguration in 2017, when the real-state mogul promised to have “the biggest celebrities in the world” at his swearing-in, only to deliver a relatively modest roster of country singers, cover bands and mostly unknown acts.
In addition to the lower wattage at Trump’s party, a number of stories emerged at the time about the long list of acts who reportedly turned down opportunities to perform for the former Celebrity Apprentice star, including opera star Andrea Bocelli — who pulled out of a planned duet with Trump’s National Anthem singer and America’s Got Talent runner-up Jackie Evancho — Elton John, Celine Dion, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Brooks, Kiss, Moby, Marie Osmond, Idina Menzel and Charlotte Church among others. And, according to the Washington Post, Trump is reportedly “furious” that so many of the A-listers who turned their backs on him during his administration are now lining up to fete Biden and Harris.
So how do the two events line up? Billboard took a look at the guest list for Trump’s inauguration and the roster for Biden’s to see which commander in chief commanded the biggest stars.
Trump, who has long courted celebrity friends and admirers, promised one of his gold-plated blowouts before being sworn-in as the nation’s 45th president. But the events got off to a modest start on the afternoon of Jan. 19, 2017, with a “Voices of the People” concert at the Lincoln Memorial that featured a West Palm Beach honor choir, a high-school marching band, a New Jersey ROTC Color Guard, the American Tap Company and a trio of bagpipe troupes.
That night, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial amped things up with a pair of country stars (Lee Greenwood, Toby Keith), as well as “Kryptonite” rockers 3 Doors Down, followed by a number of lesser-known acts including The Piano Guys, the Frontmen of Country and actor Jon Voight. By contrast, Barack Obama’s pre-inaugural “We Are One” concert in January 2009 drew more than 400,000 people for a blockbuster event that featured Beyoncé, Mary J Blige, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, John Legend, U2, Stevie Wonder, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor and John Mellencamp as well as performers Steve Carell, Jamie Fox, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Luther King III, Denzel Washington and many more.
With no inaugural balls or parade due to COVID-19, and the heightened security in the wake of the Trump supporters’ Capitol attack, Biden’s team has set up a series of events leading up to Wednesday’s inauguration. They include Sunday night’s “We the People” concert, which featured Cher, Fall Out Boy, Michael Bivins, Sophia Bush, DJ Cassidy, Connie Britton, AJR, Will.i.am., Taylor, Carole King and Ben Harper.
Biden’s inaugural committee has also planned the Jan. 19 We Are One event, a “celebration to honor and celebrate all within the Black Community and African Diaspora” hosted by Terence J and featuring appearances from Leslie Jones, Frankie Beverly, Stacey Abrams, Tobe Nwigwe, DJ D-Nice, The O’Jays, Rapsody and more. There will also be a Latino Inaugural 2021 tribute with stories of Latinos’ contributions to the nations hosted by Eva Longoria. It features appearances by Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Leguizamo, Rita Moreno, Edward James Olmos, Ivy Queen, Becky G, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Gaby Moreno featuring David Garza, and All-Star Tejanos United – Stefani Montiel, Jose Posada, Shelly Lares, DJ Kane and an Emilio Estefan produced performance of “One World, One Prayer” by the Wailers, featuring Skip Marley, Farruko, Shaggy and Cedella Marley.
In a more modern tradition, Biden and Harris honored the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday with a United We Serve celebration day of service that included Rev. Dr. Bernice King, Martin Luther King III, Aloe Blacc, Chesca, Rosario Dawson, Andra Day, Yo-Yo Ma, Diane Warren and Bebe Winans, among others. Trump’s celebration included a meeting with Martin Luther King II at Trump Tower in New York about voting rights.
Trump and first lady Melania will break with more than a century of tradition by reportedly not meeting with Biden and incoming first lady Dr. Jill Biden, eschewing the usual signs of a peaceful transfer of power such as a White House meeting and exchange of gifts. Trump has also declined to attend Biden’s swearing-in. And while Beyoncé sang the National Anthem at Obama’s second inauguration and fellow pop superstar Lady Gaga is slated to do the honors at Biden’s, reality singer Evancho took on the daunting task for Trump. Jennifer Lopez and Brooks are also scheduled to appear to Biden’s inauguration.
Because of the pandemic and the security concerns in D.C., Biden and Harris will not be able to follow the more recent tradition of attending a variety of inaugural balls featuring a glittery lineup of artists. After widely reported issues securing big name talent for Trump’s inauguration, the list of names who turned up at his inaugural ball was also low-key, including Sam & Dave’s Sam Moore, “Lord of the Dance” Michael Flatley, a number of the dancers from the Rockettes troupe, Tony Orlando and lesser knowns such as Pelican 221, Circus 1903, Cache Wilson and Lexi Walker.
Biden’s team has pivoted from balls to a prime-time TV special, Celebrating America, which will be hosted by Hanks, and airs from 8:30-10 p.m. ET on Wednesday night. It will broadcast across five TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC), and will stream online on the PIC’s YouTube and social media channels, as well as Amazon Prime Video, Twitch and NewsNOW from Fox. Among the announced performers for that special are Demi Lovato, Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Legend, Jon Bon Jovi and Justin Timberlake, Ozuna and Ant Clemons.