Brooks declined to say what he will perform at the ceremony, only saying that his mind had gone toward choices with a patriotic bent. But he did say that it would not be his anthem “We Shall Be Free.” “We were lucky enough to sing ‘We Shall Be Free’ at the Obama inauguration (in 2009), so I don’t think we’ll do that again here.” He added, “I think I’ll be performing by myself. We’ll be doing more of the broken-down, bare-bones stuff.”
Brooks emphasized that he does not take partisan stands and has performed for every president since Jimmy Carter except Ronald Reagan, although the 2009 performance for Obama was the only one that took place at an actual inaugural. “I was lucky enough to be asked to play the 2016 inauguration (of Donald J. Trump) as well. We couldn’t fulfill that one as well because we already had dates in Cincinnati,” but, he noted, he has played for Trump on other occasions.
“This is not a political statement. This is a statement of unity,” Brooks said. “I’m excited, nervous — all the good things, because this is history and it’s an honor to get to serve.”
The actual ask came in a phone call from First Lady-to-be Dr. Jill Biden, he said. “She’s very welcoming, very warming. We’ve known each other since the Obama inauguration. She’s very easy to talk to. She said, ‘It’s your decision, but we would love to have you here.’ I’m sure we’re around the same age, but she was very much like a mom. … She made a very sweet ask. We took the weekend to think about what we would sing… and made the decision (to announce) right now.”
Asked what would make this feel especially different, he said, “The main thing they’re pushing now is unity, and that’s right down my alley… I would say we’re more divided than ever, so that bridge that brings us together” is key, Brooks said. “I don’t know. I might be the only Republican at this place. But reaching out, together… I want us to offer a differing opinion and hug each other at the same football game. …I think as long as you have people like the Bidens who are hellbent on making things good,… That makes me feel good. Because I want to spend the next 10 years of my life not divided. I’m so tired of being divided.”
“You can’t just take extreme left and extreme right because there’s a silent majority in the middle that’s going to dwarf both of them,” he added.
Brooks took pride in the announcement happening on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, saying, “One of my favorite quotes from him is ‘We can’t start living till we rise above the narrows of our own individualistic concerns…'”
The singer noted that, upon receiving the Gershwin Prize in early 2020, he had had the opportunity to perform for members of both houses of Congress. “You’re worried there’s gonna be a gap down the middle that’s big enough to drive a truck through,” he said. But “I watched them dance together, sing and cry together, and you couldn’t tell which one was which party.”
Brooks was asked to comment on the siege of the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. “We are part of the human race, so I’m always going to try to find sunny sides in there, he said. Saying that he believed some people got caught up “in the heat of the moment,” he said, “All I can do is beg and plead for everybody to take that second, that moment, take a breath. Think about your family. Think about what mark you’re going to leave on this planet as a human being… It felt like it was in some other country, but it was here. Now we deal with it and take responsibility… and now we do our best to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.”
Brooks is the third artist announced to perform at the swearing-in ceremony, along with Gaga and Lopez. Producers said that he would not be part of the TV special airing later on Wednesday, which will be hosted by Tom Hanks and include Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Foo Fighters, Jon Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake and Demi Lovato.
Asked during the virtual press conference if he might consider playing either “The Change” or “The River,” Brooks said, “Neither one of those had crossed my mind… They’re both ballads — try to remember the entertainment value of this!”