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Tears and cheers at Obama concert


It was a day that combined high-minded political rhetoric with the very best of pop culture. Tens of thousands of citizens, a throng more than a mile long on the National Mall, braved frigid weather and long security lines Sunday to attend a historic concert celebrating the United States' first black president — held at the feet of the monument honoring the country's great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.

As black-clad sharpshooters patrolled the parapet of the Lincoln Memorial, President-elect Obama and his family had what looked like a rocking good time. They sat with Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, royalty style, in a glass-walled booth on one side of the stage.

During the two-hour concert, broadcast on HBO, they clapped, danced a little and sang along as they were feted by entertainment royalty — actors and musicians including Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, Usher,, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Shakira, James Taylor, Garth Brooks and Pete Seeger.

Golf great Tiger Woods spoke of growing up in a military family. He introduced the Naval Academy's glee club, which performed with soprano Renee Fleming.

Obama and Biden each spoke briefly, delivering words reminiscent of their stump speeches, both speaking to the anxiety that has the country in its grip, both promising a better tomorrow.

"In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," Obama said. "But despite all of this — despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead — I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time."

The choice of the Rev. Eugene Robinson, an openly gay Episcopal bishop, to give the invocation seemed to be a deliberate counterpoint to Obama's selection of conservative evangelical Rick Warren, a gay-marriage opponent and pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., to give the prayer at his swearing-in Tuesday. Robinson urged the crowd to remember that Obama "is a human being, not a messiah" and asked God to "keep him safe, that he might find joy in this impossible calling."

Bono, the lead singer of U2, injected the only seemingly unrehearsed political note to the day. Just after Obama's wife, Michelle, blew him a kiss, Bono said Obama's election represented "the American dream, the European dream, the Asian dream, the African dream and the Palestinian dream."

U2 performed two of its most recognizable songs: One and (Pride) In the Name of Love, a paean to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"It makes you believe in dreams," Daneille Wielding, a 25-year-old Chicago native who lives in Baltimore, said of the event. Wielding had arrived at the National Mall at 9 a.m. and was moved to tears, she said, by Brooks singing We Shall be Free and Beyonce's America the Beautiful.

"I have dreams," said Wielding, "and all of this — the setting, the music, the Obamas — make me believe those dreams are possible."

Worship at historic church

Obama and his family attended services Sunday at one of the oldest historically black churches in Washington, thrilling a congregation that honored the president-elect for advancing the legacy of such civil rights icons as Rosa Parks and King. Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, a Northwest Washington institution with a storied history dating back more than 200 years, was filled with hundreds of people. The visit was to be a surprise, but the presence of the Secret Service gave it away.

Columbia celebrates

Columbia University is throwing a campus party to celebrate the inauguration of its first graduate to become president: Barack Obama, Class of '83. Just inside the university's iron entrance gates, a framed poster of a smiling Obama looks onto a plaza where a giant television screen will be set up for the broadcast of Tuesday's ceremony in Washington, barring extreme weather. Hot chocolate and warm cider will be served.

Miracle pilot is coming

The mayor of Danville, Calif., says US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who lives in Danville, and his family are going to the presidential inauguration. The pilot landed his crippled aircraft safely in the Hudson River Thursday.

Day of service

The Obamas and Bidens will be celebrating the 23rd federal observance of King's birthday today by performing yet-unannounced acts of public service and have encouraged others to do the same.

Hold that call

The cell phone industry has a plea for the throngs descending on Washington: Go easy on the mobile communications. Cell phone carriers, fearful that a communicative citizenry will overwhelm their networks, are also spending millions of dollars to temporarily and substantially upgrade their networks in Washington.

Associated Press

Tears and cheers at Obama concert 01/18/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 1:41pm]
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