As Donald Trump prepares for Friday’s inauguration with historically low approval ratings, he’s also preparing for an inauguration celebration that’s been plagued by controversy. Since shortly after the election in November, his team has been struggling to book performers who are willing to appear at the inauguration of such a controversial president — or even performers willing to honor a prior commitment to the inauguration in the face of backlash from fans.
It looks as though a lot of A-list (and not-so-A-list) celebrities have strong political qualms about celebrating Trump’s presidency, or think that their fans might. That, or a disproportionate number of celebrities have found themselves oddly busy this January.
Even non-celebrities are backing out. The Washington, DC-area marching bands that traditionally celebrate inaugurations are conspicuously absent from this one. And the performance groups that have signed on — like the Radio City Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — have faced enormous backlash for their decisions, both internal and external.
The backlash extends to events that aren’t even officially affiliated with Trump. The B Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen cover band, was booked to play the Garden State Presidential Inaugural Gala in DC as part of a standing contract that dated back to 2013. The gala is a New Jersey State Society affair, not affiliated with the federal government, but as backlash against inauguration performers mounted, the B Street Band decided to pull out of the event, out of the “respect and gratitude we have for Bruce and the E Street Band.”
Vince Neil (disinvited)
Vince Neil, best known as the lead singer for Mötley Crüe, told Billboard on November 18 that he had been booked to perform at the inauguration two months before, “no matter who won.” On November 19, he told TMZ that he’d just been disinvited.
“I guess there is more politics in bands playing than I thought there was,” he said. “I asked my guys, and they said once Trump won, it was all politics. I don’t know who’s playing Trump’s party, but God bless them.”
Elton John (declined)
On November 22, Trump spokesperson Anthony Scaramucci told the BBC that Sir Elton John would be performing at the inauguration, which Scaramucci said showed that Trump supports LGBTQ rights. (He does not.)
“Incorrect,” said John’s publicist. “He will NOT be performing.” Only a month earlier, John had said in an interview that the prospect of a Trump presidency made him “fear for the world.”
Andrea Bocelli (declined and/or disinvited)
In December, a few gossip websites reported that the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli would perform at the inauguration, only to be immediately corrected by both the Bocelli and Trump camps. Depending on whom you believe, Trump either declined Bocelli’s kind offer to perform or he begged Bocelli to take the job and Bocelli backed out after his fans threatened to boycott.
Céline Dion (declined)
According to the Wrap, Trump supporter Steve Wynn promised the president-elect that he could deliver Céline Dion to the inauguration. Wynn is a prominent Las Vegas hotelier, and Dion has been a Vegas artist-in-residence on and off since 2003, so Wynn would reasonably have connections to her, although Wynn’s camp denies that he was ever asked to book performers for the inauguration.
Regardless, Dion wasn’t interested. She won’t be at the inauguration festivities.
Garth Brooks (declined: scheduling issues)
Wynn may or may not have approached Dion, but Garth Brooks says Wynn definitely approached him about performing at the inauguration. In sharing that news on Facebook, Brooks announced that he is “praying” for Trump, but says a scheduling conflict kept him from performing at the inauguration. “Always an honor to serve, though,” he added.
The Beach Boys (ostensibly interested)
In December, a rep for the Beach Boys told People that the band had been asked to perform and was mulling the invitation. “We will let you know as soon as a decision is final,” the rep said, but with the inauguration mere days away, no decision has been announced.
KISS (declined: scheduling issues)
Shannon Tweed, wife to KISS frontman Gene Simmons, told TMZ that Trump’s team approached KISS about performing at the inauguration. “They asked and he politely declined,” she said. Simmons says it’s because of a scheduling conflict.
David Foster (declined)
David Foster, a producer and 16-time Grammy winner, says that when Trump’s team approached him about performing, he “politely and respectfully declined.” An anonymous source told the Washington Post that Foster would have liked to perform, but he feared angering the Clinton supporters who regularly donate to his charity, the David Foster Foundation. “He couldn’t risk it,” said the source.
Jackie Evancho (performing)
America’s Got Talent finalist Jackie Evancho was the first performer to sign on to perform at the inauguration. A 16-year-old classical singer, she’ll be singing the national anthem.
Evancho, who has an 18-year-old transgender sister, has been called a “traitor” for agreeing to appear at the inauguration. “I just kind of thought that this is for my country,” Evancho said. “So if people are going to hate on me, it’s for the wrong reason.”
Rebecca Ferguson (declined)
Ferguson, best known for the UK TV show The X Factor, has said she was asked to perform, and said that she would be happy to do it if she could sing the protest song “Strange Fruit,” about lynch mobs (sample lyric: “Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze”). Perhaps not surprisingly, Ferguson’s name is not on the current list of inauguration performers.
Moby was also approached by Trump’s team, and, like Ferguson, he said he would be happy to deejay at Trump’s inauguration — as long as Trump released his tax returns “as payment.”
“I would probably play Public Enemy and Stockhausen remixes to entertain the Republicans,” he said on Instagram.
Charlotte Church (declined)
Welsh singer-songwriter Charlotte Church says she was also invited to perform. “A simple Internet search would show I think you’re a tyrant,” Church responded to Trump on Twitter.
Lee Greenwood (performing)
On January 13, Trump’s team finally revealed its picks for the pre-inauguration concert and had a chance to change the narrative from a litany of refusals to a litany of “Oh, that guy’s still around.”
Greenwood will be singing “God Bless the USA” — his most well-known song — at the inauguration celebrations. He has some strong words for his colleagues who turned down the invitation. “I think it’s in bad taste to say, ‘No,’” he told the Hollywood Reporter, adding, “It’s not political.”
3 Doors Down (performing)
The rock group 3 Doors Down confirmed on Instagram that they will be performing at the pre-inauguration concert. They have not issued any further comment on their decision.
Toby Keith (performing)
Toby Keith will also be singing at the pre-inauguration concert. The Wrap reports that Keith had to be approached multiple times before he signed on, but now that the decision is public, Keith is all in. “I don’t apologize for performing for our country or military,” he said in a public statement.
Paul Anka (declined: scheduling issues)
Anka was briefly on board to sing “My Way” at Trump’s inaugural ball but had to pull out. It’s not political, he told TMZ, saying he had a scheduling conflict.
Jennifer Holliday (declined)
Broadway star Jennifer Holliday was also briefly signed on for the inauguration celebrations, but her choice to back away was political, she says. In an open letter on the Wrap, Holliday says she initially thought performing at the inauguration would be part of her tradition of being a “bi-partisan songbird.” (Holliday performed for both the Bushes, Reagan, and Clinton.) But after backlash from her LGBTQ fan base, she reconsidered.
“Please know that I HEAR YOU and I feel your pain,” she wrote. “The LGBT Community was mostly responsible for birthing my career and I am deeply indebted to you.”
The Piano Guys (performing)
YouTube stars The Piano Guys will be at the pre-inauguration concert. Facing backlash after the announcement, they posted a statement to their website saying, “We love you. You give our music wings! We sincerely hope and pray for your understanding.”
DJ Ravidrums (performing)
According to his website, Ravidrums “invented the live re-mix.” He’s appeared on a few different reality TV shows and was briefly the music producer for the short-lived TV show Howie Do It, but he is perhaps best known for his drum solo at Nintendo’s 2008 presentation of Wii Music. “No one has ever felt more cool while looking less cool than this,” opined Polygon of that performance.
DJ Ravidrums will be performing at the pre-inauguration concert, but he has not made a public statement about his performance.
The Frontmen of Country (performing)
The Frontmen of Country is a trio that features Tim Rushlow, Larry Stewart, and Richie McDonald. They have not publicly commented on their scheduled performance at the pre-inauguration concert.
Jon Voight (performing)
Jon Voight, the actor who narrated Trump’s biographical video at last year’s Republican National Convention, is scheduled to introduce Rudy Giuliani and do “a few things here and there” at the inauguration celebrations, he says.
The final tally has Jackie Evancho, Lee Greenwood, 3 Doors Down, Toby Keith, the Piano Guys, DJ Ravidrums, the Frontmen of Country, and Jon Voight performing at the inauguration festivities this weekend.
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