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A host of musical acts, including Katy Perry and Tim McGraw, performed at the event Wednesday night

By Virginia Chamlee
January 20, 2021 09:24 PM
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Katy Perry
| Credit: CNN

A primetime TV special called Celebrating America — the "capstone" of this precedented Inauguration Day, organizers said — aired Wednesday night in honor of newly sworn-in President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The 90-minute special, hosted by Tom Hanks, was an adjustment amid the COVID-19 pandemic as officials encouraged the public to watch inaugural events at home and switched much of the programming to remote formats.

Celebrating America showcased "the American people's resilience, heroism, and unified commitment to coming together," organizers said of the primetime event, meant to replace the glitz and glamor of the usual Washington, D.C., gatherings.

The special, which aired on the major networks and online, kicked off with a performance by Bruce Springsteen, followed later by Jon Bon Jovi and the Foo Fighters.

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Bruce Springsteen performs at Wednesday night's inaugural special Celebrating America.
| Credit: getty images
Celebrating America
Justin Timberlake
| Credit: Getty Images

There were segments spotlighting regular people who had distinguished themselves through service as well.

The special included a mix of remote and pre-recorded appearances.

Partway through, Hanks introduced Biden from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for a brief speech following his earlier inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol.

"We've learned again that democracy is precious," Biden said. "Because of you democracy has prevailed. That's Jill and I, Kamala and Doug, wanted to make sure our inauguration is not about us but about you, the American people."

(Biden was unmasked, but by himself, and so was Harris when she appeared later in the special for remarks of her own. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the decision, which contrasts with a new mask mandate by the administration, saying they take extensive precautions and there are "bigger issues to worry about." When Biden appeared again in the special with his family at the White House, they wore masks.)

Early on in the special, audiences watched as Brayden Harrington – a young boy who spoke about how Biden made him feel confident despite his stuttering problem during the Democratic National Convention — read lines from John F. Kennedy's inaugural address.

Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington also appeared to "introduce segments throughout the night ranging from stories of young people making a difference in their communities to musical performances."

Ant Clemons and Justin Timberlake performed their song "Better Days" and Demi Lovato, Katy Perry and others sang later in the special.

Timberlake said on the Today show that he was "incredibly excited" by the opportunity, calling it an "honor."

Perry alluded to her own performance as part of Celebrating America late in a photo posted to Instagram on Tuesday.

The photo featured several patriotic microphones from her archives, and later that night, the Biden Inaugural Committee confirmed the news that Perry would indeed be featured in the special.

Sarah Fuller, the first woman to score in a Power 5 football game, introduced Harris, who shared a brief message on the spirit of American aspiration.

"In many ways, this moment embodies our character as a nation," Harris said. "It demonstrates who we are, even in dark times. We not only dream, we do … we shoot for the moon, and then we plant our flag on it."

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Vice President Kamala Harris
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John Legend
| Credit: Getty Images

The first woman vice president encouraged Americans to "believe in what we can do together."

After Harris' moving words, John Legend performed a powerful rendition of "Feeling Good."

Sarah Lindsay, a New York nurse who was the first person in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, later introduced Tyler Hubbard and Tim McGraw, who sang their new song "Undivided," as organizers confirmed to PEOPLE exclusively earlier this week. 

The song's message, as Hubbard (one half of Florida Georgia Line) said, is of unity, a parallel to Biden's campaign.

Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton shared a brief message during the special to wish Biden luck on his presidency.  

"We've gotta not just listen to folks we agree with, but listen to folks we don't," Obama said, later adding, "we're at our best when we're all moving in the same direction."

"Mr. President, I'm pulling for your success," Bush said. "Your success is our country's success."

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Demi Lovato
| Credit: getty images
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Healthcare workers dancing along to Demi Lovato
| Credit: CNN

Lovato then sang "Lovely Day" as healthcare workers from around the country were featured dancing along to the song. Lovato's performance was followed by Perry, who sang her hit "Firework" as an impressive fireworks display was launched over the Washington Monument as the special's grand finale. 

After Perry's performance, Biden, Harris and their spouses were seen clapping as they watched the fireworks.

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Katy Perry
| Credit: CNN
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President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden
| Credit: CNN
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Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff
| Credit: CNN

"Congratulations President Biden and Vice President Harris," Hanks concluded the show. "Godspeed your efforts."

Biden and Harris were sworn in to office on Wednesday morning, kicking off a day of ceremonies celebrations that included a virtual parade, wreath-laying ceremony and military salute.

Celebrating America began airing on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NBC as well as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and other streaming platforms.