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Published: Monday, 1/19/2009

Stars shine in kickoff of inaugural

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

WASHINGTON - Some of the biggest stars in American pop music and Hollywood entertained President-elect Barack Obama and his family Sunday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the official start of the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president.

Mr. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters stood and sang along with Stevie Wonder on "Keep On Trying" and joined many in the crowd estimated at 500,000 in "American Pie" as sung by Garth Brooks.

The nearly two-hour concert, dedicated mostly to Abraham Lincoln but also to other politicians and civil rights luminaries, was one of many events leading up to Tuesday's presidential swearing-in at the Capitol.

One of the side events Sunday was a celebration held by Ohio Democrats a few blocks away in the Mayflower Hotel.

At the concert, Mr. Obama cited the economic crisis and wars awaiting his administration, but added that he feels the same hope he felt when launching his campaign for president about two years ago.

"In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," he said.

He said Americans are "anxious and uncertain about the future - about whether this generation of Americans will be able to pass on what's best about this country to our children and their children."

He said his hope is based on "a belief that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together - Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; Latino, Asian, and Native American; black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not - then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process."

The crisply arranged "We Are One" celebration featured Tom Hanks and other actors quoting Democratic and Republican politicians and nonpoliticians

In addition to Lincoln, they included Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Rosa Parks.

Pop singers backed up by choirs sang their own hits, or the hits of others, and the event culminated with Pete Seeger leading the crowd in "This Land Is Your Land" and Beyonce Knowles singing "America."

A political note crept in when Bono, of the Irish band U2, sang "Pride In the Name of Love," a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., and added it's "not just an American dream, it's an Irish dream, a European dream, an African dream, and an Israeli dream, and also a Palestinian dream."

The president-elect and his wife, Michelle, greet the crowd as they arrive at the Lincoln Memorial for the 'We Are One' concert that opened the festivities for his inauguration. The president-elect and his wife, Michelle, greet the crowd as they arrive at the Lincoln Memorial for the 'We Are One' concert that opened the festivities for his inauguration.
ALEX BRANDON / AP Enlarge

Entertainers who braved the cold included James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Mary J. Blige, Will.i.am, Beyonce, Jon Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, Herbie Hancock, Steve Carell, Queen Latifah, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Mr. Springsteen, who played a prominent role in Mr. Obama's campaign, was the opening act, playing "The Rising."

Queen Latifah introduced a short video clip of black contralto Marian Anderson singing from the same steps seven decades ago, after having been banned from Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Sheryl Crow and Herbie Hancock teamed up on the Bob Marley song, "One Love," and a jubilant Ms. Crow gave a one-person "fist bump" in the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Obama.

HBO paid $2.5 million for exclusive rights to broadcast the concert, but a spokesman for the Presidential Inauguration Committee said HBO would make the show accessible to the public at no cost.

Toledoan Angelita Cruz Bridges, a lawyer in the office of the Lucas County auditor, watched on giant TV screens from the hill surrounding the Washington Monument.

Mrs. Bridges, who was with her husband, Jonathan Bridges, a financial analyst for Chrysler, said her initial impression that Washington wasn't as full as she anticipated turned out to be wrong.

"We stood in line for probably a good hour. It was complete gridlock," Mrs. Bridges said.

She said she's sure the feeling conveyed during the concert will filter out to the entire country, that the United States "is on the cusp of really big change."

Also journeying from Toledo were Molly Long and her daughters Sydney, 18, and Haley, 15, and their friend Megan Sullivan, 15.

"The concert itself was worth the eight-hour drive," said Ms. Long, executive director of the Toledo Children's Hospital Foundation.

Sydney said, "Everybody was so good. I had never seen so many stars in the same place." She said she voted for Mr. Obama on her 18th birthday.

State Rep. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), who is staying with a friend in a $300-a-night suite in Virginia, missed the concert but attended the Democratic black-tie event at the Mayflower Hotel.

She said the galas and excitement eclipse any other inauguration she's heard of.

"It's a history-making event. Everybody wants to be a part of it," Ms. Brown said.

The $250-a-ticket affair was strictly to celebrate a great Democratic victory, said chairman Bill Demora, not to benefit any politician running for office.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Mr. Obama, his wife and daughters, and his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, attended 19th Street Baptist Church in Washington yesterday.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama said the president-elect and his family "look forward to learning more about many churches in the District. They will choose a church home at a time that is best for their family."

The focus today is to be Mr. Obama's call for Americans to engage in community service to observe Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.

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