Tuesday, January 20, 2009

America's Song (will.i.am and David Foster)

From today's Writer's Almanac:

Today is Inauguration Day. The Constitution mandates that each new president take the following oath of office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. George Washington also started a tradition of adding the line "so help me God."

Until 1937, Inauguration Day was March 4th. But it was changed in 1937 by the 20th Amendment, because there was no reason to have that much time between November elections and the inauguration.

The shortest inaugural address was the first one, delivered by George Washington. It was 135 words long. The longest inaugural address was by William Henry Harrison — it was 8,495 words.
There have been three poets who have recited at inaugurations. Maya Angelou read at Bill Clinton's first inauguration, Miller Williams at his second. In 1961, Robert Frost appeared at John F. Kennedy's inauguration. Frost wrote a poem specifically for the occasion, called "Dedication." It began:

Summoning artists to participate

In the august occasions of the state

Seems something artists ought to celebrate.

Today is for my cause a day of days.

And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise

Who was the first to think of such a thing.

And it ended:

A golden age of poetry and power

Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.

But because the January morning was so bright, and the glare on his faint typewritten paper was so intense, the 86-year-old Frost had a hard time reading the poem he had composed. So he recited one of his poems that he knew by heart, "The Gift Outright." It was a great moment for poetry.

About a month ago, Barack Obama announced his inaugural poet: Elizabeth Alexander, a professor at Yale. Obama knows Alexander from the days when they both taught at the University of Chicago. And Alexander has been working on her inaugural poem ever since.

Some of these events have happened already... and some are yet to come - how exciting is all this?!? (rhetorical question... :-)

WASHINGTON, DC - The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) is pleased to announce the producers and initial talent lineup for WE ARE ONE: THE OBAMA INAUGURAL CELEBRATION AT THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL, the Opening Celebration for the 56th Presidential Inaugural, to be presented exclusively by HBO on Sunday, January 18 (7:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT). The event will be free and open to the public, kicking off the most open and accessible Inauguration in history.

The special will be executive produced by George Stevens, Jr. (The Kennedy Center Honors), and produced by Don Mischer (Olympic Ceremonies) who will also direct the special, and Michael Stevens (The American Film Institute Salutes) who is also writing the special, and will be a production of The Stevens Company in association with Don Mischer Productions.

Musical performers scheduled for the event include Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, Renee Fleming, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock, Heather Headley, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles, John Mellencamp, Usher Raymond IV, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, will.i.am, and Stevie Wonder. Among those reading historical passages will be Jamie Foxx, Martin Luther King III, Queen Latifah and Denzel Washington. The Rt. Reverend V. Gene Robinson will give the invocation. Rob Mathes will be the music director and arranger for the backing band, which will support all of the artists. Additional performers will be announced as they are confirmed.

"Our intention is to root the event in history, celebrating the moments when our nation has united to face great challenges and prevail," observed George Stevens, Jr. "We will combine historical readings by prominent actors with music from an array of the greatest stars of today."

"This is a great opportunity to capture an historic event in a very meaningful setting," noted Don Mischer. "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."

"We have found that the great artists are eager to take part and each one is working with us to find music that expresses the optimism and hope that people bring to the Obama inauguration," said Michael Stevens.

Televised to the nation, the Opening Celebration will be a declaration of common purpose and new beginnings. The Sunday afternoon performance will be grounded in history and brought to life with entertainment that relates to the themes that shaped Barack Obama and which will be the hallmarks of his administration.

HBO will televise the event on an open signal, working with all of its distributors to allow Americans across the country with access to cable, telcos or satellite television to join in the Opening Celebration for free.

The 56th Inauguration promises to be the most inclusive in history, and the Opening Celebration is one of a series of inaugural events that reflect that commitment.

On Saturday, the President-elect, Vice President-elect and their families will journey to the nation's capital via train, holding events that are free and open to the public along the way. They will be joined by a group of everyday Americans they met along their road to the White House. On January 19, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President-elect Obama will call on all Americans to make an ongoing commitment to serve their communities and their country. A new website, USAservice.org, makes it easy for Americans to organize service events or find existing events to participate in. To date, nearly 5,000 events have been organized across the country. That evening, Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, and their families will host a free "Kids' Inaugural" concert to honor military families, broadcast live on the Disney Channel and Radio Disney.

This spirit of openness will continue on Inauguration Day, when, for the first time in history, the entire length of the National Mall will be open to the public for the swearing in ceremony. Local D.C. students have also been given the chance to receive tickets in front of the White House for the Inaugural Parade for themselves and their family members based on the submission of essays answering the question, "How can I contribute to my neighborhood through community service?"

On the evening of Inauguration Day, the first ball that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will attend will be the first-ever Neighborhood Inaugural Ball. The ball will be broadcast live on ABC and over the Internet, bringing together neighborhoods across the country in the spirit of unity and celebration.

The sum of these public events is an Inauguration that allows more Americans than ever before to come together as one nation and one people, united in our resolve to tackle our greatest common challenges and move this country forward together.

For the latest information on the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, please visit www.pic2009.org

P.S. I am leaving first thing tomorrow (Wednesday) morning to fly up to Atlanta to spend a week with my mom... so, although I'll have my laptop with me for sporadic e-mail checks, I may not blog much (or at all) - back Tuesday, January 27...

SONG: America's Song (will.i.am and David Foster)

BOOK: Yes We Can: A Biography of Barack Obama by Garen Thomas

POEM: Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you.

QUOTE: "A leader is a dealer in hope." ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

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