It all begins today.
The US presidential inauguration of Donald Trump took place on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall this morning—drawing a somewhat hushed, rained-upon crowd—and was concluded, as it traditionally is, by the singing of the national anthem.
The anthem is not generally considered the most pivotal part of the ceremonies, nor is any of the live performance lineup over the weekend-long event, for that matter. But music this year has played an unusually prominent role. In the months leading up to Trump’s election droves of well-known artists across America came out in opposition to the celebrity president and the inaugural committee struggled to find A-list musicians to perform.
“We are not putting on Woodstock,” said Trump spokesman Boris Epshteyn a few weeks ago, defending the inauguration’s lack of star power. So—what kind of show did the new president put on instead?
Last time, Beyoncé. This time, a teenage game show contestant
Fair-skinned, light-haired, and dressed in a pure-as-snow white coat, Jackie Evancho took the stage after the inaugural address and sang the national anthem in a shaky voice. She idled in the spotlight for less than one ethereal minute before disappearing.
Evancho is a 16-year-old vocalist who got her start on the game show America’s Got Talent when she was 10. Her age and relative lack of recognition raised eyebrows when she was announced as Trump’s national anthem pick. (For a while, social media rang with the same one joke: Jackie Evan-who?)
It was an especially odd choice in contrast to Obama’s inauguration pick, Beyoncé. The global star, along with husband Jay Z and many other members of the hip-hop community, is personal friends with Barack Obama; her presence represented a profound shift, empowering a new wave of multiculturalism.
Not all recent presidents have been sworn in alongside world-renowned pop celebrities, but the symbolism of national anthem singers of the past has remained constant.
|Inauguration||National anthem singer|
|Donald Trump, 2017||Jackie Evancho, former talent show contestant|
|Barack Obama, 2013||Beyoncé, pop star|
|Barack Obama, 2009||US Navy Band Sea Chanters|
|George W. Bush, 2005||Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bradley Bennett|
|George W. Bush, 2001||Army Staff Sgt. Alec T. Maly|
|Bill Clinton, 1997||Santita Jackson, daughter of Rev. Jesse Jackson|
|Bill Clinton, 1993||Opera singer Marilyn Horne|
|George Bush, 1989||US Army Band Staff Sgt. Alvy Powell|
|Ronald Reagan, 1985||US Marine Band|
|Ronald Reagan, 1981||Juanita Booker, African American amateur singer|
|Jimmy Carter, 1977||Cantor Isaac Goodfriend, Holocaust survivor|
|Richard Nixon, 1973||Ethel Ennis, jazz legend|
Evancho—too young to even have cast a vote in Trump’s election—stood today as a stark opposite to the historical trajectory.
That’s not to disparage Evancho’s talents as a singer, or to claim America’s diverse cultural growth is waning anytime soon. But it is all too fitting that the national anthem singer for Trump’s inauguration completely embodies the racial demographic that brought the president to his election victory—and the type of American citizen that he seem most interested in serving.
The Radio City Rockettes protest. It changes nothing.
“I am speaking for just myself, but please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts,” Phoebe Pearl, a member of the renowned precision dance troupe the Radio City Rockettes, wrote on Facebook after being told the group had been signed up to perform at Trump’s inauguration.
Pearl and several other Rockettes have publicly expressed discomfort at dancing in the inauguration—citing Trump’s record of making sexually explicit comments on women’s bodies as among their reasons. As employees of a larger corporate organization, however, they had no say in the booking.
The New York Times summed up the performance’s strange symbolism yesterday (paywall):
In a rare collision of presidential politics and a venerable arts organization, current and former Rockettes find themselves in a new kind of spotlight—a position both painful and empowering—as they take sides over the inauguration, a split illustrating the cultural divide that President-elect Trump has cleaved through the country.
The Rockettes (described by the Times as “silent and smiling”) are performing in D.C. to honor the new presidency, despite the personal objections of several members. When asked whether those concerns should be legitimized, James Dolan, chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company, which manages the Rockettes, said the dancers are expected to be “tolerant of intolerance.”
“Yeah, in a way, I guess we are doing that,” Dolan said, referring to the implication that the Rockettes are celebrating Trump with their performance. “What other choices do we have? What else would you suggest?”
That question is being brought home today for everyone watching the events—from the Trump supporters braving the rain during the inauguration, to the liberal protesters gearing up for tomorrow’s multi-city Women’s March, to the rest of the country, keeping a wary eye on the inauguration at home, hoping to glean some small sense of whatever will unfold over the course of the next four years.