Bill Clinton’s weeklong wrap party got off to a stirring start Sunday in front of the Lincoln Memorial, with the three-hour “A Call for Reunion” concert, broadcast by HBO. Flanked by family and friends, the president-elect and an estimated crowd of 500,000 were treated to performances by a panoply of artists from Hollywood’s entertainment elite, brought together by producer Quincy Jones.
The evening opened with James Earl Jones, Jack Nicholson, Edward James Olmos and Oprah Winfrey reading quotes from Abraham Lincoln.
The ensuing clip of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural speech echoed how a torch was being passed to a new generation of Americans, and the giant TV screens flanking the stage caught the president-elect reciting the speech along with the clip, word for word.
Luther Vandross emerged to sing a fervent “Stand by Me,” joined by Melissa Etheridge and Ben E. King, among others.
Kenny Rogers intro’d “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was interpreted by Wes Studi (“The Last of the Mohicans”) in Cherokee, by Ruben Blades and Maria Conchita Alonso in Spanish, and by soulful renditions via James Ingram and Ashford & Simpson.
The night was highlighted by clever juxtapositions of artists. Bob Dylan sang “Chimes of Freedom” in a white scarf and cowboy hat, followed by a crooning Tony Bennett; the Joint Services Military Orchestra backed rapper L.L. Cool J, while Kathleen Battle traded improvisational licks with Kenny G on “We Shall Overcome.”
L.L. Cool J nearly stole the show with his witty rap welcoming the new administration, calling the new president “Big Bill” and “My Man Billy,” to Clinton’s obvious delight, as the Woodstock-sized crowd behind him waved their arms and screamed on cue.
Aretha Franklin rocked the crowd with “Respect,” and 10 sax players, including Gerry Mulligan and David Sanborn, emerged with shades to do a medley of “Turkey in the Straw” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Diana Ross sang “God Bless America” and was followed by Sydney Poitier, Whoopi Goldberg, Lauren Bacall and R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe reading quotes from various American patriots.
Stevie Wonder brought the rest of the artists back for “We Are the World,” with Michael Jackson and Ray Charles joining them as producer Quincy Jones took a well-deserved bow as he conducted the chorus. The night ended with Charles singing “America the Beautiful,” followed by an equally impressive pyrotechnic display.