Artists who perform at the US presidential inauguration events have, in the past, captured something about who the incoming president is.
As the country came out of the Great Depression in 1941, box office star Mickey Rooney was reassuring, like Franklin Roosevelt. For Barack Obama in 2009, Aretha Franklin’s soulfulness chimed with his promise of change while Beyoncé demonstrated that that excitement was still alive for his second term in 2013.
Donald Trumpseemed to have been struggling to lure any major names to his inauguration – which he insisted this week would be “elegant” and “very special” – until Friday, when he announced an appearance by the leading country artist Toby Keith.
Trump also unveiled the southern rock band 3 Doors Down and singer Jennifer Holliday who will perform, like Keith, the day before the inauguration at the welcome celebration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
They will join the only artist who agreed to announce her association with the inauguration before Friday – a teenage singer booked to sing the national anthem next Friday who launched a successful career after appearing on the reality TV competition America’s Got Talent.
Jackie Evancho, 16, has a bright future but perhaps lacks the name recognition of predecessors such as Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson, who performed for George W Bush in 2001. The Beach Boys said before Christmas they were considering joining the inauguration weekend billbut have not confirmed the plan.
And while Trump lured the three other performers just before the inauguration, for the traditional concert the day before he’s sworn into office, so far, the biggest names linked to the event are those who have declined, including Elton John, Céline Dion, Andrea Bocelli and Garth Brooks.
Two talent bookers claimed Trump’s team offered them ambassadorshipsif they could get top celebrities – but organizers insist they want a different type of event. “What we’ve done, instead of trying to surround him with what people consider A-listers, is we are going to surround him with the soft sensuality of the place,” Tom Barrack, the chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, said this week.
Trump, who lives in a 24-carat gold- and marble-decorated apartment in Manhattan, emphasized, in bold letters on Twitter in December, that he wanted a less extravagant celebration. “The so-called ‘A’ list celebrities are all wanting tixs to the inauguration, but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING. I want the PEOPLE!”
Barrack said the inauguration would have a “much more poetic cadence than having a circus-like celebration that’s a coronation. That’s the way this president-elect wanted it.”
The distinction between a coronation and an inauguration has been important to Americans ever since the founding fathers set out the inauguration rules in the constitution (all that is required is the oath).
“It was very conscious to the people who created the constitution that they weren’t putting in a king that was then there for a lifetime,” said Harry Rubenstein, chairman of the National Museum of American History’s politics division.
But the first person to be inaugurated, George Washington, set the bar high for pomp and circumstance. He was the first president and a hero of the revolutionary war, and the ceremony captured the national fervor after winning independence.
Washington’s ceremony began at his home at Mount Vernon in Virginia and went north to the then US capital, New York City. There were bands and parties along the route, which set the national celebration tone that persists today.
“It’s in many respects a national holiday, celebrating American traditions,” Rubenstein said.
But it’s also an occasion for the winning political party to celebrate its success. “It’s one party won and one party lost, and people come into town to celebrate their victory,” Rubenstein said.
Also celebrating will be the billionaire and millionaire attendees who have been nominated to Trump’s cabinet, including the outgoing chairman of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, and the investor Wilbur Ross. Tillerson, like other cabinet picks, was grilled at Senate confirmation hearings this weekas Trump continued his battles with the media and intelligence agencies.
The victors will also celebrate their achievements at balls and parties scheduled throughout the week. Barrack confirmed there would be three balls and a series of private dinners over the weekend but has not announced whether any celebrities will attend.
A minor fuss arose over the booking of a Bruce Springsteen cover group, the B Street Band, to play the Garden State Presidential Inaugural Gala on Thursday. The real Springsteen has been a persistent and vociferouscritic of Trump.
The list of A-listers who have refused to perform at the main event pales in comparison with the list of stars who have said they will be protesting.
And during the swearing-in, celebrities including Jane Fonda and Judd Apatow will be raising money for Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union through a telethon called the Love-a-thon.
The president-elect has also divided group performers such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Rockettes, who are performing at the event. A choir member quit, writing a public letter last monthsaying performing there would be “endorsing tyranny and fascism”. And members of the Rocketteshave told reporters the scheduled performance has divided the dance company.
Until Friday afternoon, that left Evancho as the only confirmed solo act.
“We’re going to have a very, very elegant day,” Trump said at a press conference on Tuesday. “The 20th is going to be something that will be very, very special, very beautiful. And I think we’re going to have massive crowds, because we have a movement. It’s a movement like the world has never seen before. It’s a movement that a lot of people didn’t expect.”
Keith, who has landed 61 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, has been politically active for decades. In 2004, he described himself as “a conservative Democrat who is sometimes embarrassed for his party” and he spoke positively about Obama as recently as 2009.He left the Democratic party in 2008to become an independent, in part because of his support for the then vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
TheMississippi band 3 Doors Down, whose mainstream success peaked in the early 2000s, announced they would be performing on Instagram. Comments on the post were divided, with some fans begging for the group to rethink their decision.
“Guys...please don’t do this... I’ve loved your music since I was able to talk, but I can’t support the decision to back this vile piece of garbage via a concert. I’m heartbroken honestly…,” wrote the Instagram user gingertenofficial.
Others were elated. “Love you guys for this appearance,” wrote ryanna38, who ended her comment with five heart emojis.