WASHINGTON – Elton John said Friday that he had played in some beautiful venues, but the stage in front of the White House, under a huge tent on a perfect fall night, was “probably the icing on the cake”.
He then kicked off the show with ‘Your Song’, his first major international hit.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the 75-year-old singer and spoke about his activism, the power of his music and his all-round goodness. The event was conceived and funded by A+E and History Channel.
Seamus Heaney once wrote, and I quote, ‘Once in a lifetime, the long-awaited tidal wave of justice can rise, and rhyme hope and history,’ said Biden. to help get up and make hope and history rhyme.”
At the end of the show, Biden surprised John with the National Humanities Medal, for his songbook and long legacy of advocacy.
John wept and said he was “stunned and humbled”.
The 2,000 guest list included teachers, nurses, frontline workers and LGBTQ advocates, plus former First Lady Laura Bush, civil rights advocate Ruby Bridges, education activist Malala Yousafzai, and Jeanne White-Ginder, an AIDS activist and mother of Ryan White, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.
The night was actually called ‘A Night When Hope and History Rhyme’, a reference to the poem Biden quoted by Irish Heaney.
It was John’s first appearance at the White House since performing with Stevie Wonder at a 1998 state dinner honoring British Prime Minister Tony Blair. At age 75, John is on a farewell tour after more than 50 years of performing.
The show came together after A+E Networks and the bill-paying History Channel asked the White House and John if they were willing to partner in honor of both “everyday history makers” and John himself, according to people familiar with the discussions that spoke with the TNZT on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal planning.
It is not clear if the show will air. John has worked with A+E in the past on his global HIV/AIDS charity, the Elton John Foundation, which has raised more than $525 million to fight the virus around the world.
John will be in town on Saturday to play Nationals Park as part of his final tour. He opened the final leg of his North American farewell series in Philadelphia in July.
The president and first lady are big fans. Biden wrote in a 2017 memoir about singing “Crocodile Rock” to his two young boys while taking them to school, and later again to son Beau before dying of cancer at age 46.
“I started singing the lyrics to Beau softly so that just the two of us could hear it,” Biden wrote. “Beau didn’t open his eyes, but I could see through my own tears that he was smiling.”
John played the song Friday and said someone told him Biden used to sing it.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was also a fan of John. He tried to get John to perform at his inauguration in 2017, but John refused, saying he didn’t think it was appropriate for a Briton to play at the inauguration of a US president.
The White House insisted Friday’s show was not an attempt to troll Trump, who has praised John in his books and over the years often used John’s music — including “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer” — in his pre-rally playlists. Trump has nicknamed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “missile man” because of his track record of firing missiles.
John played “Tiny Dancer” on Friday to thunderous applause.
Sir Elton – knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 – has sold more than 300 million records worldwide, played more than 4,000 shows in 80 countries and recorded one of the best-selling singles of all time, his 1997 reworking of “Candle In The Wind”. ” to praise Princess Diana, which sold 33 million copies.
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