See Beyoncé, Ricky Martin, Aretha Franklin bring their A-game to past inaugurations

Beyoncé sings the national anthem at President Barack Obama’s ceremonial swearing-in on Jan. 21, 2013.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Aretha Franklin performed at President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. Michael Jackson took the stage at Bill Clinton’s gala. Ricky Martin headlined festivities for George W. Bush. And Beyoncé delivered a show-stopping national anthem at Barack Obama’s swearing-in.

Not surprisingly, on Wednesday, President-elect Joseph R. Biden will continue the modern tradition of having major celebrities headline the inaugural festivities, which culminate in him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris taking their oath of office.

Lady Gaga will perform the national anthem, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman will read a poem and acclaimed actress and singer Jennifer Lopez will give a musical performance, joining the growing roster of celebrities feting the incoming 46th president.


President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in Wednesday. Here’s everything to know about Inauguration Day events.

Jan. 19, 2021

Here’s a look at memorable inauguration performances over the years:

Carter, a Democrat who became the longest-lived American president in 2019, is among the many who landed musical heavyweights for his swearing-in. Queen of Soul Franklin, who also performed at Obama’s first inauguration, sang “God Bless America” for Carter, and Linda Ronstadt sang a cover of “Crazy.”

Alas, the 39th U.S. president, who has attended every swearing-in ceremony since his own in 1977, won’t be attending Biden’s inauguration due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like Carter before him, Democrat Clinton invited a number of luminaries, including Michael Jackson, Elton John and Barbra Streisand to perform at events surrounding his first inauguration, ramping up the star power with celebrity cameos. His preinaugural events accommodated almost every musical taste with a wide array of events across several days leading up to his swearing in.

Joining Jackson, John and Streisand were Fleetwood Mac, Bon Jovi, Michael Bolton, the Alvin Ailey Dance troupe, actor-comedians Chevy Chase and Bill Cosby and actors Jack Lemmon and James Earl Jones. Opera singer Marilyn Horne performed a medley during the ceremony.

On the Republican side, President Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981 was overshadowed for coinciding with the release of 52 Americans being held hostage in Iran. At his second inauguration, the former actor and California governor witnessed performances by opera singer Jessye Norman, who sang “Simple Gifts” from Aaron Copland’s “Old American Songs.”

President George H.W. Bush marked the auspicious occasion of the bicentennial inauguration with a number of galas, receptions, festivals, children’s events and a prayer service. The Harlan Boys Choir of Kentucky and Staff Sgt. Alvy Powell of the United States Army Band sang at his 1989 inauguration ceremony.


His son, George W. Bush, also followed Clinton’s lead with a pop star-studded lineup. His 2001 inauguration events included performances by Martin, Motown singer Kim Weston and accompanying events featured Jessica Simpson, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Brooks & Dunn, Charlotte Church and Jon Secada.

In 2013, as Biden was sworn in as VP for the second time during Obama’s inauguration, the former Delaware senator witnessed Beyoncé’s assured performance of “The Star Spangled Banner,” standing right behind the pop diva as she belted out the national anthem.

Former “American Idol” star and “The Voice” coach Kelly Clarkson also delivered a slow-building rendition of “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee).” In 2009, James Taylor, John Legend and Jennifer Nettles were tapped to perform for Obama’s first inauguration.

Outgoing commander-in-chief Donald Trump, who will be the first incumbent president since Andrew Johnson not to attend his successor’s swearing-in, had a harder time clinching A-listers for his inaugural festivities. However, the band 3 Doors Down, musician Lee Greenwood and country star Toby Keith, who last week received a National Medal of Arts right after Trump was impeached for a second time, were among the performers at Trump’s preinaugural concert.

Notably, “America’s Got Talent” alum Jackie Evancho performed the national anthem at Trump’s ceremony. While the 2017 appearance boosted her concert ticket sales, she was dragged on social media and by the LGBTQ community for agreeing to the gig.