Inaugural sound stage

Mega-stars, top musicians to perform all over Washington

January 18, 2009|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,

Even the red carpet spectacles of the Oscars and the Grammys will be hard-pressed to compete with the star power generated by Barack Obama's inauguration.

In keeping with the hopeful, all-inclusive vibe that pervaded his presidential campaign, the musical events - from country to hip-hop, from R&B to operatic pop - taking over Washington will turn the old political town (for a few days at least) into the epicenter of the pop music world.

This unprecedented parade of stars comes as no surprise, given the fervent celebrity support that Obama received during his campaign. Everyone from media queen Oprah Winfrey to pop producer extraordinaire were vocal supporters. In his arena tour with Mary J. Blige last summer, Jay-Z performed in front of a huge backdrop shot of a smiling Obama.

Not since Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration (which also drew a cavalcade of celebrities, including Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Fleetwood Mac) has Washington been such a hot spot for performances. The heady mix at the Obama inauguration, featuring legends and legends-in-the-making, also includes burgeoning local performers at high-profile inaugural events throughout the city.

Some of the biggest names will perform on one stage, just below the imposing statue of Abraham Lincoln at 900 Ohio Drive S.W. The two-hour concert, "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial," starts at 2:30 p.m. today and is the largest musical event open to the public. The show will be broadcast on HBO and features 19 performers. Nearly each one is a marquee name, including pop diva Beyonce, hip-hop soul queen Mary J. Blige, rock god Bruce Springsteen, Motown legend Stevie Wonder and '90s country phenom Garth Brooks.

Interspersed throughout the performances, Queen Latifah, Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington and Martin Luther King III will read historical passages.

"This is a great opportunity to capture a historic event in a very meaningful setting," says Don Mischer, producer and director of "We Are One." "We will have the statue of Abraham Lincoln looking down on our stage and a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people lining the mall - a tableau any director would relish."

Other musical events are scheduled around Washington tonight and tomorrow. Latin pop star Marc Anthony and the legendary Latin pop-fusion band WAR will appear at the Latino Inaugural Gala at Union Station tonight. The Beastie Boys and Sheryl Crow, a seemingly incongruous pairing, will headline the 9:30 Club tomorrow night for a show dubbed "Hey, America Feels Kinda Cool Again." Also scheduled for tomorrow, the famously nonchalant hip-hop impresario Jay-Z will rock the stage at Warner Theatre, while the category-defying Bela Fleck and jazz stalwart Wynton Marsalis will perform at CNN's inaugural event at the Kennedy Center.

As major names draw crowds to Washington's storied venues, budding local artists will perform at other inaugural events throughout the city.

Eric Byrd, a jazz pianist and McDaniel College professor of music, will be performing Tuesday night at the Inaugural Purple Ball at the Fairmont Hotel, where the cheapest ticket was $300. He shares the bill with acclaimed operatic pop vocal group Il Divo and jazz pianist-singer Peter Cincotti. Other names on the program include actress Deidre Hall and actor-author Hill Harper.

Byrd says the opportunity to perform at the gala came through a contact he made when he was an extra in My One and Only, the Renee Zellweger movie shot in Baltimore last summer.

"I found out about a month ago," Byrd says. "I was super excited and now nervous. [With all the security restrictions into Washington], I'm nervous because I don't know how I'm going to get my equipment into the city."

For Byrd, playing at the inauguration of the first African-American president has deep personal meaning. His father, a staunch Obama supporter, died in July at age 84, months before he could cast his vote.

"As an African-American male, he marveled at Obama's campaign and used to tell me, 'If he wins, that would be the greatest thing I've ever seen in my lifetime.' Me playing at this inauguration is a blessing," Byrd says.

Baltimore native Kameko, an indie artist whose bright music melds pop-rock and R&B, will perform at two invite-only events: the Children's Inaugural Ball with host Al Gore tomorrow night at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery; and the Casablanca on the Potomac at Studio 411, also tomorrow night.

"Personally, performing at this historical inauguration is the highest honor of my career, and I don't think much else can top it," he says. "We're talking about the first black president."

Kameko, who performs mostly in Europe and Japan, says the exposure could help his career.

"I believe that this is going to open many doors and introduce me to people in a powerful light, since the event is all about change, hope and positivity," he says. "That's what my music is all about, so there's no better introduction."

on tv

The inaugural concert "We Are One" will air tonight from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on HBO.

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