Obama celebration comes together

Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen among performers

NEW YORK -- Denzel Washington, Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Stevie Wonder are among the talent who will participate in Sunday's inaugural opening celebration, which will air live on HBO.

"We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial" is the first of official events sponsored by the Presidential Inaugural Committee for Barack Obama's inauguration. HBO will carry the event exclusively from 7-9 p.m. EST; the premium channel will be available free to cable and satellite providers with an open signal.

Many of the details still are being finalized, but executive producer George Stephens Jr. said a key theme will be Obama's place in history among other presidents who have led the country in difficult times.

"It's not a celebration of victory; it's about the country coming together for the future we're going to face," Stephens said Monday. "There's a sense of history about it. Much of the music will be in the context of that history. The Lincoln Memorial is a kind of sacred site."

Producer-director Don Mischer agreed.

"More than anything, it's going to be a moving program," he said. "We're trying to pick performances and music that in one form or another are grounded in history."

The Lincoln Memorial has been the site of many iconic performances in American history, from Marian Anderson on Easter Sunday in 1939 to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech a quarter-century later.

Mischer, Stephens and the organizers are on a hurried schedule, having only known for a few weeks that they'd be producing the show. And some performances are still being fleshed out.

"I can assure you that this show will not be over-rehearsed," Mischer joked.

Also scheduled to perform are Mary J. Blige, Garth Brooks, will.i.am., James Taylor, Josh Groban, Sheryl Crow, Herbie Hancock, Usher, John Mellencamp, John Legend, Shakira, Heather Headley, Jennifer Nettles and Renee Fleming. More performers will be announced, Stephens said. They will play music appropriate to the occasion and, in many cases, together.

Washington will read historic passages as will Queen Latifah, Jamie Foxx and Martin Luther King III. Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and their families will be among the attendees. Obama also will appear onstage, though his role has not yet been disclosed.

Stephens praised the celebrities' response, saying that the A-list talent has been saying yes immediately and will come without entourages. The Presidential Inaugural Committee isn't awash in cash, so performers' travel costs aren't paid for, though their stay in Washington is.

"They're all coming on their own," Stephens said. "It's really unique, and they've all been generous about it."
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