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Obama, Stars Headline Inaugural Concert


You could think of Sunday's events in Washington, D.C., as a warm-up for the presidential inauguration. Big stars played, and an incoming president spoke. Instead of the Capitol, the backdrop for this huge crowd was the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln was a president who meant different things to different generations, but one meaning above all was hard to miss as Obama stood on the monument's white steps. NPR's Debbie Elliott was there.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: From the moment Mr. Obama launched his campaign for president, he has evoked the imagery of the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. It was at the foot of Lincoln's statue that celebrities took to the stage to call for the nation to unite, and to recall key moments in U.S. history. Bono and U2.


BONO: Let freedom ring.



BONO: On this spot where we're standing, 43 years ago - 46 years ago, Dr. King had a dream...

ELLIOTT: Hundreds of thousands of people lined the reflecting pool on the National Mall yesterday, reliving the 1963 March on Washington. President-elect Barack Obama watched with his family from a transparent enclosure on the stage and appeared to enjoy it all, including the comedian Jamie Foxx's impersonation.


M: This was the most incredible moment of my life and all of your lives when our president-elect said to the American people - and he said it very smooth and calmly - he said, if there's anyone who still doubts...


M: ...that America is not a place where all things are possible, tonight is your answer.

ELLIOTT: Mr. Obama called the concert a celebration of American renewal, but was candid about what his administration must overcome.


INSKEEP: In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now. Our nation is at war. Our economy is in crisis. Millions of Americans are losing their jobs and their homes.

ELLIOTT: And he warned, quote, our road will be long, our climb will be steep.


INSKEEP: I won't pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy. It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many. Along the way, there will be setbacks and false starts, and days that test our resolve as a nation.

ELLIOTT: Mr. Obama said despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead, he's hopeful the United States will endure.


ELLIOTT: The Obamas were on their feet dancing when Usher and Shakira joined Stevie Wonder for his classic "Higher Ground." The crowd was euphoric. Christina Kerry(ph) of Odenton, Maryland, was wearing a "Yes We Did" button.

M: Yes we did, and here we go. It's a new era.

ELLIOTT: Kerry and her friend Bob Randolf(ph) said the concert captured the spirit of this moment in history.

M: It's amazing.

M: The people, it's a positive atmosphere all over the place. I mean, it's just great.

M: It's exactly what we needed.

M: Yep.

M: Giving everybody hope. It's time for a change, and I think he's the right person to do it.

ELLIOTT: Todd Garrett(ph) of San Francisco was sporting his "Republicans for Obama" button.

M: The primary reason I got so frustrated being a Republican was how divided our politics had become. And Barack seemed like the kind of person who could bring this country back together again.

ELLIOTT: Others, like Paul Grey(ph) of Chicago, were less interested in the celebration than the work ahead.

M: I think it's time to get going on government. I mean, I'm happy for the inauguration, but I'm really interested in seeing what's going to happen day after tomorrow.

ELLIOTT: As the show came to a close, folk legend Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen led the masses in an anthem to their vision of America.


M: This land is your land This land is my land From California...

ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: I'm looking at a photo gallery of people on stage, from Beyonce to Pete Seeger. You can find it at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.