“Pass the Mic,” meet “Pass the Presidency.” DJ Cassidy has the distinction of being the only musical participant in Wednesday’s inaugural festivities to be featured as part of two separate events, for which he’s produced a pair of segments of his popular “Pass the Mic” series in honor of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris getting their own mic-pass.
The first appearance, in the virtual inaugural parade in the afternoon, will be focused on the classics. Later in the evening, he’ll have a segment on the Tom Hanks-hosted “Celebrating America” prime-time special, bringing the hits more into the present.
“In one segment, I pass the mic to three legendary R&B acts of the 1970s and 1980s in a glorious feel-good calling for the soul of America: Nile Rodgers, Kathy Sledge and Earth Wind & Fire,” Cassidy tells Variety. “It doesn’t get more prolific than them. Their music exudes all that is human and joyful, and I am proud to call them all friends. In another segment, I expand in both genre and era, as I pass the mic to two modern-day icons of Latin music, Luis Fonsi and Ozuna. Both segments are a musical celebration of our nation, our diversity, and our unity.”
These are far from the first times he’s participated in a presidential inauguration, although they do mark — in miniature — the first time that his D.C. dance parties have been open to the public.
“In 2009, I was the first to ever DJ a presidential inauguration when I performed at Barack Obama’s Inaugural Ball and programmed the music for all ten balls,” he says “Then, in 2013, I was the first to ever DJ at the White House, when I performed at Obama’s inaugural celebration. Those were the greatest nights of my life. They were not a dream come true, because my dreams simply aren’t that wild. And, of course, I never dreamed I’d be performing at an inauguration from my living room — this is surely one for the history books.”
While some of the music for Wednesday’s festivities is coming together more at the last minute — Garth Brooks said Monday that he was asked to perform late last week and made his decision over the weekend — DJ Cassidy got more notice. And he needed a bit more, even for segments that are shorter than his usual half-hour marathons, since there’s some work that goes into making the segues between the live-sung cameos flow seamlessly. He was still doing last-minute work on nailing down the segments as he spoke with Variety Tuesday.
The two Obama inaugurations were far from Cassidy’s only points of connection with the new transition teams. He also established his position as the Democrats’ favorite spinner when DJ-ed at the White House birthday parties for Obama and his First Lady, Michelle. More recently, he campaigned for Biden and Harris, “most significantly while producing a virtual event for the Vice President Elect in August in which we co-hosted and raised over $1 million for the Biden campaign.”
“They called me over the holiday to ask if I’d like to produce two ‘Pass The Mic’ segments for the inauguration. To be completely honest, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe they had seen ‘Pass The Mic,’ and I couldn’t believe they wanted to include it in this historical day. They explained that because this inauguration would be different from all others, they wanted to connect Americans in an unprecedented way and celebrate the everyday heroes around the nation. Then it made perfect sense. I created ‘Pass The Mic’ for that very reason, to celebrate my musical heroes in effort to pay homage to the heroes on the frontlines of health, freedom and justice.”
One veteran act on board is also a veteran of his ongoing video series, in which stars turn up for a verse or two of their most familiar songs, somehow timed to a seemingly unerring beat. He also brought in some new blood for the occasion.
“Earth Wind & Fire was the very first act on the very first episode of ‘Pass The Mic,'” he points out. “A Facetime call with Verdine White in April actually inspired the entire concept, as I wanted to give people around the world the special feeling I have every time I connect personally to my musical heroes. It was fitting that they participate in the highest honor that could ever be bestowed upon ‘Pass The Mic.’ Nile Rodgers, Kathy Sledge, Ozuna and Luis Fonsi are all first-timers. It is always a thrill to pass the mic to artists whom I revere, and to do it for the Inauguration of Biden and Harris was a thrill like no other. … I have never recruited artists for ‘Pass The Mic’ in such a short amount of time. The answer was yes across the board.”
EWF’s Philip Bailey reiterates his excitement about taking part. “These are very challenging and unprecedented times we are all living through, and much of our music was written for such times,” he said in a statement. “We were honored to participate, at DJ Cassidy’s invitation, in the inauguration’s ‘Pass the Mic.’ Congratulations to President Biden and Vice President Harris. Praying for a smooth transition, peace health and prosperity.” Adds Sledge: “I am so proud take part in this performance and to be the voice of a song that brings the world together” — the Sister Sledge song she’s referring to probably not being any great puzzle to guess.
Says Cassidy, “Our nation is at a crossroads. We can choose love or we can choose hate. As Joe Biden says, we are in a fight for the soul of America. This inauguration marks a new beginning. I am beyond honored to be taking part in some small way and contributing musically to the celebration of the ideals that make our nation great — diversity, unity and democracy.”