Music sends a message to America
Woodstock provided the anthems for a generation that wanted to make a revolution and establish a counterculture.
In coming years we all may look back on the concerts and parties celebrating President Barack Obama’s inauguration as when a new generation rediscovered the hope in some of the nation’s most treasured symbols -- and, as Obama told the hundreds of thousands gathered in the chill, the hope within themselves.
For all the musical star power and celebrity support that entertained and cheered the new president, there may not have been a more moving moment Sunday than when Obama took the microphone at the Lincoln Memorial and told the throng that the most important thing about the event was not the surrounding marble monuments, but the people who filled the spaces in between.
“It was an amazing day,” said John Mellencamp, who sang “Little Pink Houses” at the mall concert. “To see that Americans are finally accepting each other equally, black and white, is something I’ve wanted for a long time.”
After the show, Obama mingled with the performers -- including Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Beyonce -- backstage. He gave out hugs and handshakes. He chatted with Mellencamp’s sons about the sports they’re involved in. “He gave them his undivided attention,” Mellencamp said. “I was impressed.”
The range of artists who performed here for dignitaries and average people from across the U.S. reflects the diversity Obama hopes to harness and is another reminder of how the musical wing of the entertainment industry touches the nation’s soul in all its most thoughtful places.
Who would have imagined seeing Jon Bon Jovi, U2 and Pete Seeger singing in honor of an African American president? It was as much a triumph for the values of the entertainment industry as it was for Obama’s support- ers.
It had to be gratifying for the huge Hollywood contingent in the capital to see how the pre- and post-inaugural musical performances stressed the importance of a medium of expression that not only has entertained Americans but also has helped form consciences and politics.
The presence of Seeger, a legendary left-wing activist, on the steps of the memorial established a living link to the 1930s, when American entertainment discovered its social conscience.
The concert also was an example of how Aaron Copland -- a gay Jewish New Yorker -- has become the composer who provides the soundtrack for many serious occasions in America.
His “Fanfare for the Common Man” opened the week’s festivities, and his “Lincoln Portrait” -- the spoken parts movingly read by Hollywood favorite Tom Hanks -- was one of last Sunday’s emotional high points because it connected the crowd with Lincoln, the emancipator.
Music was everywhere this week in Washington, including the Jonas Brothers playing for young audiences, as well as blues sessions at hole-in-the-wall bars -- such as the Black Cat. Maroon 5 wowed a crowd at Norman Lear’s Declare Yourself bash, and Anita Baker and Joss Stone crooned for the crowd at the BET Honors.
But among some Washington visitors, the musicians who bring the most history to their music are those who play jazz, the first authentic American music, whose roots are planted firmly in the African American experience.
On hand to provide that music Monday at a Kennedy Center concert -- organized by Wynton Marsalis -- was Dave Brubeck, Bela Fleck and others.
Fleck, who cut short a trip to Scotland to perform in D.C., summed up the spirit of the week.
“We’ve regained our self-belief,” said Fleck, who masterfully plays America’s original instrument, the banjo. “Music hasn’t been a focus by the president for a long time. This has sent a message out to the people that music is important again.”