Sheryl Crow, U2 and Garth Brooks and more offer inspirational performances in D.C.

By Kristen Mascia Brian Orloff
January 18, 2009 05:15 PM
Alex Brandon/AP

Barack Obama and his family had a star-studded – and musical – introduction to Washington, D.C.

On Sunday afternoon, the President-elect was feted on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration. The two-hour event was broadcast live on an open signal on HBO, and it featured a mix of historical speeches, presented by stars like Tom Hanks, and classic anthems like U2’s surging Martin Luther King, Jr.-inspired “Pride (In the Name of Love).”

Equally powerful, Beyoncé closed out the festivities with a stately, soaring version of “America the Beautiful.” The singer beckoned all the earlier performers on stage, leading a star-studded sing-along. Said Beyoncé as she concluded, “America, we are one.”

Denzel Washington kicked the festivities off with an introduction, telling the crowd, “We are inspired by the man we’ve elected to be the 44th president.” Then, the actor ceded the stage to Bruce Springsteen and a full gospel choir in red robes. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, the troubadour performed “The Rising” – and delivered a message of unity. “Come on up for the rising,” he sang. “Come on up, lay your hands in mine.”

As he performed, the cameras panned to the awe-inspiring sight of thousands of spectators huddled in the cold, packed around the Reflecting Pool and stretched all the way east to the Washington Monument.

Much closer to the action, Obama and his family – including wife Michelle and their daughters Malia, 10, who snapped photos of the massive crowd, and Sasha, 7 – took in the festivities from a front-row perch, in a box just off the stage, next to Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill.

Obama also took the stage to thank performers and audience members for sharing in the celebration. “Welcome to Washington, and welcome to this celebration of American renewal,” he said. “As I stand here tonight, what gives me the greatest hope . . . is you: Americans of every race and region and station who came here because you believe in what this country can be and because you want to help us get there.”

Mary J. Blige got concert-goers dancing – even Obama, who grooved in his seat – during her soulful version of “Lean on Me.” And Jamie Foxx inspired plenty of laughter – including a chuckling Obama – with his pitch-perfect impression of the President-elect as he recited lines from Obama’s post-election victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park.

U2's The Edge and Bono
Mark Wilson/Getty

Sheryl Crow teamed up with jazz legend Herbie Hancock and from the Black Eyed Peas for a spirited take on Bob Marley’s “One Love.” “Let’s get together and feel all right,” they sang while audience members frantically waved their hands in the air. Later, during his performance, Garth Brooks sang his Obama-inspired original composition, “We Shall Be Free,” which the country star melded into a medley of recognizable favorites like “American Pie” and “Shout.”

And Usher took the stage with Shakira and Stevie Wonder for the soul luminary’s “Higher Ground.”

Fans began lining up for the star-studded event by 8 a.m., and the Jumbotrons flickered to life just before 1 p.m., broadcasting images of Obama and his family traveling to Washington, D.C., as well as greetings from a range of stars.

Ellen DeGeneres was just one famous well-wisher. “What an amazing country we live in,” the talk-show host said in her recorded message. “I would love to be there, but I’m stuck here in Burbank,” she said, joking, “I don’t go anywhere under 65 degrees.”

As for other guests, VIPs including Sen. John Kerry and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright filed in about 45 minutes before the show’s start.