‘Celebrating America’ inauguration concert caps off a historic day

Inauguration concert hosted by Tom Hanks features many prominent acts and remarks from Biden and Harris

‘Celebrating America’ inauguration concert caps off a historic day
"Lincoln Memorial at Early Dusk" by John Brighenti is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After a day filled with historic moments, the 2021 presidential inauguration ended with the “Celebrating America” concert, hosted by actor Tom Hanks. 

“In the last few weeks, and in the last few years, we’ve witnessed deep divisions and a troubling rancor in our land, but tonight we ponder the United States of America, the practice of our democracy, the foundations of our republic, the integrity of our Constitution, the hope and dreams we all share for a more perfect union,” Hanks said in his opening remarks. 

The concert featured several musical performances by the country’s most prominent performers, as well as speeches from newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Videos celebrating essential workers played between acts.

Before Hanks came on screen, Bruce Springsteen opened with a performance of “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Just before singing, Springsteen offered the song as a “prayer for our country.”

In his opening remarks, Hanks told the audience that quotes from different addresses, such as John F. Kennedy’s address and Ronald Reagan’s farewell address where he spoke of a “shining city upon a hill,” would be singled out

Jon Bon Jovi then performed a cover of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” broadcasted from a pier in Miami. The 1969 song has often been regarded as a signifier of change and hope. 

Yo-Yo Ma changed the musical trajectory with a cello version of “Amazing Grace.” The simple performance of just him and his cello offered a mood change before Biden’s brief remarks inside the Lincoln Memorial. Ma dedicated his performance to anyone who “found new ways for us to smile together.”

From Memphis, Tennessee, Justin Timberlake and Ant Clemons performed their song, “Better Days.” With lyrics like “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel / Keep your eyes on the road ahead,” the song is an upbeat, inspiring tune. Timberlake described his performance as something that celebrates “everything this [new] administration represents” in a Tweet

Psychedelic soul band Black Pumas performed a song called “Colors.” It is about uniting people of different backgrounds, which was the central theme of Biden’s inaugural address. Lead singer Eric Burton congratulated Biden and Harris on their inauguration before performing. The band gained widespread attention after receiving its first Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist in 2020. 

Foo Fighters performed “Times Like These,” connecting challenging times and a sense of community that comes out of such times. Lead singer Dave Grohl touched on those themes while introducing the song, which he dedicated to teachers across the country, including his mother. Musically, this song contrasts from Foo Fighters’ hard rock musical style, until closer to the end when the hard rock style enters abruptly. Grohl used to be the drummer for Nirvana, and “Times Like These” is distinguishable from anything Nirvana used to do as well. 

Dozens of Broadway stars performed a rendition of “Seasons of Love,” recorded virtually from their homes and edited together in a true testament of the impact of the pandemic. Lin-Manuel Miranda recited Seamus Heaney’s poem, “The Cure at Troy.” 

After Harris’ remarks, John Legend sang a cover of “Feeling Good” at the Lincoln Memorial. Originally released in 1964 and later recorded by Nina Simone, Legend’s interpretation of this song was strikingly similar to Simone’s. Its theme is one of a new day and a new beginning. The song’s refrain, “It’s a new dawn / It’s a new day / It’s a new life for me, ooh / and I’m feeling good,” captures not only the mood of the song but the mood of the event. 

One other powerful performance was Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard’s performance of “Undivided.” This song delivers a message of unity that tied into the theme of Biden’s inauguration.

Demi Lovato and health care workers from across the country performed a cover of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.” Health care workers recorded their parts from their homes, towns and workplaces in a celebration of the work done by essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Their performance ties into the theme of the pandemic, this year and the start of a new era, showing what people can do when coming together. 

Live at the Lincoln Memorial, Katy Perry’s “Firework” closing performance was the perfect way to cap off Inauguration Day, showcasing Perry’s powerful voice combined with the fireworks display at the National Mall. 

The "Celebrating America" concert overall was a grand success that brought people together through music. With a combination of pre-recorded and live performances across the country, it was a one-of-a-kind concert that proved the ability to connect the nation virtually. 


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