Pr. George's Inaugural Ball Tied To Africa

Usher and Aretha Franklin are expected to be at the ball.
Usher and Aretha Franklin are expected to be at the ball. (Gus Ruelas - AP)
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By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 4, 2009

It will draw foreign leaders from Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Europe. Celebrities such as Aretha Franklin will be on hand. Usher, Patti LaBelle and the O'Jays are expected to perform. So are an Israeli artist, Brazilian dancers and a South African a cappella group.

The Africa and International Friends Inaugural Ball, one of the largest events to celebrate the nation's first black president, will be staged Jan. 20 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, organizers said yesterday. The ball was conceived as "a festival of the cultures of the world" and will be hosted by Kenya, birthplace of President-elect Barack Obama's father.

"We have invited the heads of state of goodwill around the world to join the leadership of Kenya, the sponsor of this event, in celebrating the man and the message that he has given the world, 'the audacity of hope,' that they have now for peace, justice and economic stability," said the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, the former D.C. congressional delegate who is the event's chairman.

Organizers said the idea for the ball came from former South African president Nelson Mandela, who expressed a desire for Africa to have a role in the inauguration. Fauntroy, who is paster of New Bethel Baptist Church and has known Mandela for decades, ran with it. Meetings began in November, and by early last month, the blueprint had emerged for an event to bring together cultural, spiritual and government leaders from around the world. Mandela is the honorary chairman.

Fauntroy said the Gaylord resort was chosen because it is large enough to accommodate the 15,000 people expected to attend the ball. He said the event would be a milestone for Prince George's County.

"The joy of it is that they are coming to the most affluent county for African Americans in the United States and one where we have the largest construction project of its kind underway, National Harbor, and its flagship, the Gaylord," Fauntroy said.

Other inaugural events will also be linked to Africa, said event planner Karen Bryant, including one ball hosted by World Bank officials and another for members of the African diplomatic corps. But what sets the ball at the Gaylord apart, she said, is the goal of linking Africa to the international community and Americans of various races and ethnicities.

"This ball is inclusive, international," Bryant said. "It's bringing together all those who want to celebrate. The reason it is the Africa ball is because it is promoting the linkage, reuniting people on economic, cultural and historic levels."

The ball will be held in 265,000 square feet of space at the Gaylord. The main event, in the 50,000-square-foot Potomac Ballroom, with tickets priced at $1,000, will include a full dinner and the main staged entertainment. The 35,000-square-foot Maryland Ballroom will host a celebration with a buffet and staged entertainment for $500 a ticket. In the 180,000-square-foot exhibit hall, revelers will be treated to hors d'oeuvres, staged entertainment and music from a local disc jockey for tickets of $250 each, organizers said.

Gaylord spokeswoman Amie Gorrell said the three venues will be linked by JumboTron. "The giant screens will allow people in each of the rooms to see what is going on in the other events," she said.

At a three-hour meeting yesterday, Fauntroy, Bryant and event planners walked the hotel, completed the menu and finalized the program.

The main event in the Potomac Ballroom will begin with a reception at 6:30 p.m., opening with a recorded message of congratulations to Obama from Mandela, followed by the O'Jays with their anthem "Love Train." Other confirmed performers include Pieces of a Dream, Lalah Hathaway, Raheem DeVaughn, Brick and Maxi Priest. The parties in the Maryland Ballroom and exhibit hall begin at 8 p.m.


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