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Inaugurations Should Be About Tradition, Not Celebrity Egos

Inaugurations Should Be About Tradition, Not Celebrity Egos

President-elect of The United States Donald J. Trump and first Lady-elect Melania Trump arrive at Joint Base Andrews the day before his swearing in January 19, 2017, in Maryland. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to come to the National Mall to witness Trump being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. (Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)

Thursday, 19 January 2017 03:27 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Tomorrow, on January 20, Donald Trump will be inaugurated the forty-fifth President of the United States. His election was marked by a great deal of turmoil, which hasn’t abated with preparations for the inauguration. Celebrities have publicly denounced both Trump and any performers willing to sing at his inauguration, and protests have been planned throughout the weekend. Have Presidential Inaugurals always been so fractious?

First off, January 20 is a relatively new date for a presidential inauguration: Our first president, George Washington, was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, in New York City. In fact, since Washington, D.C. didn’t become our capital until 1800, it was Thomas Jefferson who was the first president inaugurated in D.C., on June 11, 1800. And until 1933, when the Twentieth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect, Inauguration Day was historically on March 4.

Many Americans might not realize that the president doesn’t even get to organize his or her own inauguration; that’s done by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (currently comprised of Roy Blunt (R), Mitch McConnell (R), Charles Schumer (D), Paul Ryan (R), Kevin McCarthy (R) and Nancy Pelosi (D)).

But presidents do get to invite performers to come celebrate their election. President Obama’s Inauguration featured the PS 22 Chorus from Staten Island, New York, the Lee University Festival Choir, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson, and the National Anthem sung by Beyoncé. President George W. Bush’s inauguration featured Alcorn State University, Susan Graham, Denyce Graves, The U.S. Navy Sea Chanters, and the National Anthem sung by Staff Sergeant Bradley Bennet of the U.S. Army Band.

Going back a few presidents, Richard Nixon had the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform the National Anthem, Jimmy Carter had Cantor Isaac Goodfriend, Ronald Reagan had amateur singer Juanita Booker, Bill Clinton had Marilyn Horne and then-Rev. Jesse Jackson’s daughter Santita Jackson perform the National Anthem. More of a country music fan, President George W. Bush nevertheless welcomed performers such as Ricky Martin, Jessica Simpson, Destiny’s Child, and ZZ Top during his inaugural weekend. And President-elect Trump? The committee has announced that "America’s Got Talent" star Jackie Evancho will sing the National Anthem.

But presidents-elect don’t always succeed in luring every performer they want to Washington. While Obama’s inauguration might be remembered for performances by Usher, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, and Bruce Springsteen, it turns out that no less than the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, refused to perform. Soul singer Al Green wasn’t a fan either; he refused an invitation to attend President Obama’s Inaugural Ball.

But The Donald has had more controversy than most when it comes to celebrities at the Inauguration. He’s not having just one performer turn down the invitation to be involved with the Inauguration or Inaugural Ball, or even perform at a venue during the Inauguration Weekend. There’s an entire movement of entertainers who are convinced that the chance to perform at one of the most important and prestigious ceremonies our country conducts is akin to career suicide.

We have no way to confirm that all these celebrities really were invited to perform, but Celine Dion, Elton John, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Kate Perry, Ice T, and The Dixie Chicks all claim to have turned down invitations from Trump.

Dixie Chicks manager Simon Renshaw summed up the doom and gloom sentiment of liberal democratic performers: “No one is prepared to normalize what is going on in the country right now. If anyone does do it, I hope that the check they get is in the nine figures. Because it’s probably the last check they’re ever going to get.” Elton John was more reasonable about things, saying only, “I don’t really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign. I’m British. I’ve met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me, it’s nothing personal, his political views are his own, mine are very different.”

It’s only in the late twentieth century that presidents began inviting well-known celebrity performers to sing at their inaugurations — and when celebrities decided they could draw attention to themselves by refusing such invitations. Although Dwight Eisenhower had the inimitable Marian Anderson perform the national anthem at his inauguration, other presidents, such as Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman, were satisfied to have the U.S. Marine Band perform.

Perhaps, given Hollywood’s tense relationship with President-elect Trump, and the country’s divided politics, we should return to that simpler time when our armed services provided the music and the focus of the Inauguration was where it should be: on a ceremony that represents an historic, peaceful transfer of power. That, not celebrity egos and political feuds, is what the Inauguration is about, even if your candidate is not the one with his or her hand on the Bible.

This article first appeared on Acculturated.com.

Dave Taylor is a long-time media commentator and writer, with a focus on consumer electronics and technology. He holds a Masters degree in Education and an MBA and has published over twenty books. A single father to two teens and a tween, he also moonlights as a film and media critic and calls Boulder, Colorado, home. Read more of his reports — Go Here Now.

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It’s only in the late twentieth century that presidents began inviting well-known celebrity performers to sing at their inaugurations — and when celebrities decided they could draw attention to themselves by refusing such invitations.
president trump, inauguration, celebrities
Thursday, 19 January 2017 03:27 PM
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