So many crowded at President Andrew Jackson's inaugural reception that he was said escaped from the White House through a window. President John F. Kennedy hired a Rat Pack friend, Frank Sinatra, to provide entertainment when he took office. And, well, the Obamas danced to Beyoncé.
The transfer of presidential power in the United States has always been a landmark political event, but has also developed over the centuries into an important cultural touchstone – a whirlwind of parades, celebrations and performances that shed light every four years. the culture of the country, the tastes of its leaders and the images they try to project.
But as the coronavirus pandemic enters a deadlier phase and Washington is on edge following the Capitol riot and warnings of further security threats, the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. necessarily be different. It will participate in a long series of national events – major sports competitions, the Democratic National Convention, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and New Year's Eve in Times Square – that have been forced to shrink and adapt to a socially distant, remote world.
On Wednesday, the inaugural committee of Mr. together as a nation to heal and rebuild. "
With crowds urged to stay at home In order not to spread the virus even before a violent mob tried to block election certification, Mr. Biden's inauguration promises to adopt a different look, tone, and feel from those of his predecessors.
"All inaugural activities follow a fairly standard sequence of events," said Lina Mann, a historian with the White House Historical Association. & # 39; You have the parade, you are in the Capitol, you have the speeches, you have taken oaths, and then of course you have inaugural balls. They have been standard for more than 200 years. This will certainly look very different. "
So, as the country prepares to usher in the Biden era with a series of atypical inaugural events designed to meet the pressing needs of the day, here's a look at how politics has intersected with culture on some of the historical inaugural moments of the past.
From Dolley Madison to Teddy Roosevelt
It was the glittering ball that held Dolley Madison in 1809 at the inauguration of her husband, James – the first inaugural ball held in the new capital, Washington – that helped set the standard for making inaugurations into social events.
Two decades later, President Andrew Jackson allowed an estimated 20,000 people to attend a public reception related to his inauguration. That turned out to be a few too many in attendance, leading to his reported escape through a White House window.
Crowds also marred the ball that President Ulysses S. Grant had reluctantly agreed to hold in 1869. A reporter from The New York Times submitted a postscript his article on the chaos and bustle at "2 a.m." It opened: "The scene at the ball now baffles all description."
And at President Theodore Roosevelt's second inauguration, the parade's playlist featured "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight", and among the protesters were cowboys; Native Americans, including Geronimo; delegations from Puerto Rico and the Philippines; and Harvard students. "If there was a significant type of American life that was not represented in the three and a half hours of effervescent enthusiasm making its way through the avenue," The Times wrote, "It's not easy to remember."
J.F.K. and Reagan recruit star power
President John F. Kennedy was able to sign up an A-lister to produce his inaugural concert and gala: Sinatra.
Ms. Mann, the historian, said she's the entertainment at Kennedy & # 39; s inauguration – featuring Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein, Sidney Poitier, Ethel Merman, Harry Belafonte and other big stars – as a & # 39; big moment & # 39; 39; considered that would set the tone for the kind of glamorous, multiple inaugural outbursts that Americans are used to.
Despite a blizzard disrupting the festivities, a contemporary report described the gala as "perhaps one of the most stunning gatherings of theatrical talent ever brought together in a single show."
Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood actor, found himself attending no less than eight balls, shrugging shoulders with stars like Charlton Heston, while Tony Bennett, Lou Rawls and Ray Charles performed.
"The aura of a lot of money was everywhere," The Times wrote. "Expensive dresses from James Galanos, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, unprecedented $ 100 tickets to dance to the music of Count Basie and other big bands."
A mega concert by Clinton
In the years that followed, most presidents held some sort of inauguration concert and relied on performers to add layers of musical symbolism to their inaugurations. President Bill Clinton's team took things to a level reminiscent of the fanfare of the Kennedy and Reagan celebrations.
In 1993, the Clinton team deployed the likes of Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Kathleen Battle, Kenny G. and Ray Charles for a mega concert at the Lincoln Memorial, which featured critic Jon Pareles wrote in The Times, "promised unity through crossover."
With Bush, action becomes political
If the events of 2001 in honor of President George W. Bush's inauguration had slightly less star power – The Times described the feeling as "almost anti-Hollywood" – they still had pop superstars and country singers, including Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson.
And with a taste of things to come, whether or not they perform was increasingly seen as a political decision.
"This is a very partisan act," said Robi Draco Rosa, a friend of Mr. Martin and the author of hits like "Livin 'la Vida Loca," at the time. "This is a betrayal of everything that every Puerto Rican should stand for."
Obama leans on music while breaking barriers
President Barack Obama attended 10 opening balls in 2009, but one stood out: the Neighborhood Ball. Michelle was a chocolate-brown vision in her flowing white dress, and at our first stop I took her in my arms and spun her around whispering strange things in her ear as we danced to a sublime rendition of 'At Last' ; sung by Beyoncé, ”he wrote in his recently released memoir, "A Promised Land."
It was another star-studded inauguration. Aretha Franklin sang & # 39; My Country, "Tis of Thee" during the swearing-in. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Kanye West also all starred in the events.
Mr. Obama's inaugural events, which aimed to involve everyone, were like the rest of American pop culture infused with African American soul, & # 39; & # 39 ;, Mr. Pareles wrote in The Times.
Some artists reject Trump, others draw disdain
Leading up to President Trump's inauguration, the news focused as much on the stars who decided not to perform as those who agreed to it.
Elton John declined Mr. Trump's invitation to play at his inauguration. Andrea Bocelli, who was rumored to be performing, eventually failed to show up when the inaugural team struggled to book artists. The Rockettes joined in, but only after getting into controversy when a dancer complained she was forced to perform.
Finally, some big names joined the inaugural campaign, including Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down, and Lee Greenwood, some of whom attended a “Make America Great Again! popular music (that is, almost all popular music) largely ignored. "
Now, Mr. Biden, a man who has wanted to become president for decades, is preparing to write his own entry into inaugural history. His version will miss the lavish parades and glittering indoor balls from previous parties. But the task before him is as challenging as ever: to unite and entertain a nervous, divided American audience.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.