Great presidential inauguration musical performances: A look back

Performers at Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday include Jennifer Lopez, Garth Brooks and Lady Gaga, and tonight’s Celebrating America special will feature Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, John Legend, Foo Fighters and more.  But top music artists have actually been performing at presidential inaugurations for 80 years.

Mickey Rooney played piano at Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s 1941 inauguration, while Nat King Cole crooned for John F. Kennedy in 1961. James Brown sang at an inaugural event for Richard Nixon in 1969. Jimmy Carter’s inauguration featured Linda Ronstadt and Loretta Lynn; Ronald Reagan had Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. 

Anita Baker sang for George H.W. Bush, and Michael Jackson re-staged “We Are the World” at Bill Clinton’s 1993 event with a huge collection of stars including Michael Bolton, Stevie Wonder, Ashford and Simpson, Kenny Rogers and Diana Ross.

Here are five more memorable inauguration performances:

2009: Aretha Franklin belts out “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.  Her hat, with its enormous bow, becomes almost as iconic as her performance, scoring its own Twitter feed and starring in numerous memes.

1985: The legendary Ray Charles sings his signature soulful version of “America the Beautiful” at Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration.

2001: Ricky Martin closes the show at George W. Bush’s first inauguration with “The Cup of Life.”

2013: Kelly Clarkson sings “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” live at Obama’s second inauguration, causing the media to pit her against Beyoncé, who’d lip-synced the national anthem to a pre-recorded track at the same event.

2009: Beyonce serenades the new president and first lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, with Etta James’ “At Last” as the couple dances at the inaugural ball.

1993: Fleetwood Mac’s most successful lineup reforms for the first time since 1982 to sing their classic “Don’t Stop” – one of Bill Clinton’s campaign songs — at Clinton’s first inauguration. Even Michael Jackson got into the act at the end.

By Andrea Dresdale
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