It is very rare indeed that a performer would turn down an opportunity to perform at a presidential inauguration, as it is considered quite an honour — for some, perhaps the highlight of their career. Donald Trump, however, is having a difficult time finding performers to perform at his inaugural. He has been politely turned down by the likes of Elton John, Céline Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Gene Simmons and Garth Brooks among others. The Madison Square Garden Company, which manages the Radio City Rockettes, agreed to have them perform at the inauguration. The performers, however, not having been consulted, rebelled. According to one source, the majority voted against performing and the latest news says that, contrary to earlier reports, they will not be forced to perform. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir president Ron Jarrett also accepted an invitation to perform, and at least one choir member has permanently resigned from the choir. Soprano Jan Chamberlin wrote in her letter of resignation,
“Since ‘the announcement,’ I have spent several sleepless nights and days in turmoil and agony. I have reflected carefully on both sides of the issue, prayed a lot … and searched my soul. I could never look myself in the mirror again with self-respect.”
Many in the Mormon church are not happy that the choir has accepted the invitation, and a petition asking the choir to refuse the invitation has, at last count, more than 12,000 signatures.
Not a single local Washington DC marching band has applied to perform during Trump’s swearing-in, making it the first time in decades regional band acts are not going to be involved in the festivities.
British singer Rebecca Ferguson was invited to sing at the inauguration, and she has said that she will accept the invitation under one condition: that she be allowed to sing Strange Fruit, an anti-lynching anthem popularized by Billie Holiday and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978. Ms. Ferguson said she wishes to sing this song because it is “a song that speaks to all the disregarded and down trodden black people in the United States”.
The first verse of the song lyrics are:
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”
I rather doubt that she will perform, as I would be very surprised if her condition is met.
Although I take some pleasure in imagining how this must be getting under Trump’s thin skin, I have a higher purpose than to snicker and gloat. The people who are rejecting his invitations are helping to restore my faith, albeit only marginally, in humanity. These are people who are standing up for the values of diversity, kindness, equality. These are people who are rejecting the ideas of racism, bigotry and hate that the Trump campaign touted for more than a year. These are people who are willing to forgo the spotlight to stand up for their beliefs, their values.
There is likely another reason that many performers are unwilling to accept invitations, and that is that it is considered risky business. “An artist would be risking too much,” notes music journalist Steven J. Horowitz. “Their career, their fan base, their relationships in the music industry. As one of the most divisive president-elects in history, Trump shouldn’t be surprised that he’s facing a lack of support.” Simon Renshaw, manager of the Dixie Chicks, said, “If anyone does do it, I hope that the check that they get is in the nine figures. Because it’s probably the last check they’re ever going to get.”
Whatever the motivation, I am pleased to see that some are following their consciences and upholding the values that Trump has made a mockery of. Entertainers, artistes of all sorts, are known for their huge egos, and surely an invitation to play at the inauguration of a president is an ego trip, yet many are proving that there is more to them than just the Hollywood veneer, and I am pleased to see this.
Interestingly, after weeks of trying to secure commitments from performers, Trump tweeted that he did not need “so-called ‘A’ list celebrities. I want the PEOPLE!” But the falsehood of that statement is proven by all the invitations his staff pursued prior to that statement. As we all know, Trump cannot ever admit that the problem is him, that people just do not like him or his ideology.
Thus far, the definite commitments to perform at the inauguration are the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Rockettes, and Jackie Evancho, a sixteen-year-old amateur singer who rose to fame on a show called America’s Got Talent. At sixteen, Evancho is too young to likely understand the politics and issues of the day. Frankly, if I were her parent, I would forbid her attendance, but I am not.
President Obama’s 2009 inauguration set a record that Trump cannot even hope to achieve. Nearly 37.8 million viewers, the highest number of any presidential inauguration, tuned in to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office. In addition, millions of cubicle dwellers across the country set records for Internet traffic as they watched online video of the inauguration ceremonies. I am quite certain this year’s inaugural will draw a far smaller crowd. It is certainly not going to be one of the nation’s prouder moments.
None of this matters in the least as far as the end result. On January 20th, Donald Trump will take the oath of office and become … well, you know. It does not change the outcome, nor will it affect his policies and decisions, knowing that Elton John rejected the opportunity to play and sing for him. However, it matters just a little bit to those of us who have been feeling that there were no values remaining among people. It is encouraging to see that there are, in fact, still people out there who are courageous enough to stand up and say that they cannot, in good conscience, align themselves with a man who has no moral compass, no values.