By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Anybody who's anybody: That pretty much describes the list of musicians and celebrities who will participate in a free concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday afternoon to kick off Barack Obama's inaugural celebration. Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Garth Brooks -- and that's just toward the top of the alphabetical list released yesterday -- are scheduled to perform.
And for good measure, the Boss -- a.k.a. Bruce Springsteen -- and Bono, along with his band U2.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee also announced that Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington and Queen Latifah will give historical readings, but several more stars are expected to be added to the overall lineup. The range of talent to be assembled at the Lincoln Memorial -- historically the site of free inaugural concerts -- is shaping up as a worthy rival to the show put on by Bill Clinton's inaugural organization in 1993.
But don't expect a greatest-hits concert Sunday, the concert's producers said. The 90-minute show, which will begin at 2 p.m. and which will be shown that evening in a special free broadcast on HBO, will consist mainly of performers covering songs that have historical resonance or connect to the theme of the concert, dubbed "We Are One."
"We're never going to say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, let's give it up for Beyoncé,' and she's going to come out and sing one of her songs," Don Mischer, one of the producers, said. "It's going to be connecting music to history and ideas and American values."
Other performers include Shakira, Usher, Stevie Wonder, John Legend, John Mellencamp, Herbie Hancock, James Taylor, Heather Headley, Sheryl Crow, Will.I.Am, Josh Groban and Renée Fleming. "Everybody is going to do one song, but there were will be duets and trios and choirs," said executive producer George Stevens Jr., who has helmed 31 Kennedy Center Honors productions.
As one example of how the theme of inclusion will be highlighted, he cited plans for Taylor, Jennifer Nettles of the band Sugarland and another yet-to-be-announced artist to sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee," which opera star Marian Anderson famously sang at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. After the whites-only Daughters of the American Revolution banned Anderson from singing at Constitution Hall, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt quit the organization, and Harold Ickes, a member of her husband's Cabinet, invited Anderson to sing outdoors at the memorial.
The invocation will be given by Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, a gay church official who is in seeming counterpoint to the selection of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inaugural ceremony. Warren's selection was assailed by gay rights supporters.
The show, the producers said, will be rooted in history and will include song selections and readings that reflect the presidencies of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. "Generally speaking, people will be covering other music, often music that they've never performed before," Mischer said.
The lineup was announced after weeks of suspense and some grousing within the industry about the inaugural committee's down-to-the-wire approach in finalizing talent for balls and official events. "Normally, we would spend 4 1/2 or five months mounting something this ambitious," said Mischer, whose experience includes producing shows for the Olympics. He said he was contacted by the committee four days after Christmas. "We are doing this in record time."
But Misher acknowledged that "certainly this is not the most important thing on the [incoming] president's plate."
Obama's theme of inclusiveness extends to the array of performers from varied musical genres. Country, gospel, jazz, rock, pop and hip-hop are represented. "It is way past the time we should all come together," country star Brooks said in a statement. "I will play with respect to the years President Bush has given this country and to the hope of what President-elect Obama will bring to this country and the world."
Despite the scramble, booking top talent evidently wasn't difficult. Springsteen, Bono and Brooks "are the ones who usually say no, and for Barack they say yes," Stevens said. "They happened to be the first three we called, and it was like a three-cushion shot and running the table when they quickly said yes."
The individual stars signed on knowing that they would not be the center of attention. "These kinds of events require sacrifices from the talent," Mischer said. "Nobody will be coming here and being paid what they're normally paid, or bringing their glam squads or their entourages."
Performer lineups at the 10 official inaugural balls have not yet been announced, and the younger set is eagerly awaiting word on the lineup for a free "Kids Inaugural" on Jan. 19 at Verizon Center. It will be broadcast live on the Disney Channel and Radio Disney.
Final entertainment rosters are expected to be announced throughout this week.