Aretha Sings, John Williams Composes For Obama Inauguration


If you’re gonna get inaugurated, you might as well do it right. And President-elect Barack Obama definitely is. He’s got the Queen of Soul, the King of Dramatic Film Music and more than 10,000 U.S. troops to have his back in D.C. on January 20.

It was announced today that Aretha Franklin will sing at the historic event, her first time at an inauguration (though she did sing for President Bill Clinton back in 1993). It’ll also be her chance to return the favor to Obama, who sang a little bit of one of her own tunes to her at a Labor Day rally on the campaign trail in Detroit.

But it won’t just be Aretha making music on January 20 — the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has also enlisted none other than John Williams — best known for scoring Star Wars and Jaws — to compose a new work to be played by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill. Williams also wrote music for Obama’s election-night rally in Chicago’s Grant Park. We know they won’t be playing “The Imperial March” on inauguration day, but still. If you want to feel like a bad ass to instrumental music there are few other people worth calling.

Right now the expected attendance is around four million, surely the biggest audience yet for the other musical guests of the day — the San Francisco Boys and Girls Choirs.

POSTED December 18, 2008 10:46PM IN THE TRIPWIRE Comments (20) TAGS: ,




  1. Pingback: The Obama effect - from London | almost witty

  2. Joe says:

    “Williams also wrote music for Obama’s election-night rally in Chicago’s Grant Park. ”

    That is actually incorrect. The song at Obama’s election night rally was Titans Spirit (Score) written by Trevor Rabin.

  3. Jim says:

    Again we have a correction. The song Inaugural Ceremonies song was composed in 1944 by Aaron Copland not John Williams and is called Appalachian Spring. John WIlliams did an arrangment of it but he did not compose it.

    It was a good arrangment of Copland’s song.

  4. Joe says:

    I’m not certain on the accuracy of Jim’s comments. Based upon Yo-Yo Ma’s website, the Williams composition is a new work.

    “On the heels of Yo-Yo Ma’s current success with his best-selling album, ” Songs of Joy & Peace,” the superstar cellist has been invited to perform at the inauguration of President-elect Obama on January 20, 2009. After Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is sworn in by Justice John Paul Stevens, Yo-Yo Ma along with Itzhak Perlman on violin, Gabriela Montero on piano and Anthony McGill on clarinet will perform the new work composed by John Williams, “Air and Simple Gifts.” Then, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will administer the oath of office to Mr. Obama, who will then deliver his inaugural address. “

  5. Chuck says:

    It’s Copland… mostly. The introductory parts appears to be a Williams composition with wisps of Appalacian Spring, here and there, but then transition into what is clearly Copland’s music.

  6. Jason M says:

    It is an arrangement of a song that Copeland also did an arrangement of. It’s based on “Simple Gifts” a Shaker hymn that is a public domain song. However by adding an “Air” it does technically become a new composition just as Appalachian Spring was a new composition since it has a new copyright (and some added notes).

  7. David says:

    Actually, Simple Gifts goes back even before Copland. It was written by Joseph Brackett in the middle of the 19th century. Copland used the tune in Appalachian Spring, and it’s also been used by many other composers.

  8. jen bond says:

    John Williams arranged the music – he based it on Aaron Copeland – quintessential americana-classical composer – a natural choice for today – John Willimas did NOT write that piece as original – get the story straight please.

  9. jen bond says:

    RE: music composer – not Williams

    John Willimas arranged the inaugural piece but did NOT write an origianl piece – it was based on a very familiar tune of Aaron Copeland – the quintessential Americana-classical composer. Of course they would select Copeland for today. Please clear this up.

  10. frank says:

    It’s a Williams piece, though the use of the old Quaker tune, the same melody Copland used in his “Appalachian Spring” is certainly in part a not to Copland, and his prominent place in musical representations of America.

    Again: neither Copland nor Williams wrote that melody; both used as a building block for original pieces.

  11. Dean says:

    Actually you are all incorrect. Copland based the familiar theme you heard today on a Shaker song called “Simple Gifts” that was but a portion of “Appalachian Spring”. The rest was his own composition.

  12. Dean says:

    Remember that the Quakers up to the late 19th century did not believe in group singing or instrumental group ensembles.

  13. jaxson says:

    john williams – star wars – rules!

  14. barry r slater says:

    what an interesting conversation
    the difficulties of histories
    the language is not original
    what I use it for is
    quaker and shaker are not the same
    adding and subtracting
    what is true

  15. katie says:

    This was very cool to witness. Obama was a wonderful pick. He will do a wonderful job

  16. Katherine says:

    that inaguration was awesome. I watched it from home and my mom and i cheered for Obama. The Obama girls are so relaxed and they don’t even seem nervous. The Media needs to leave them alone because of how little they are and they just want to live normal lives. Good Luck President Obama.

  17. Don says:

    The original public domain tune, borrowed by Williams, was also borrowed by Copeland.

    For another example, most Disney movies are based on old public domain stories, so although Disney made the little mermaid famous, the story itself is not copyrighted by Disney. Their actual presentation of the story (the movie) is copyrighted by them, but the story is not.

    It works the same for this song. Copeland made the tune famous, but it was public domain long before he touched it, so it’s fair game for anyone to use. Copeland’s presentation of the tune is copyrighted by him. Williams’ interpretation of the song, on the other hand, is public domain, since he was commissioned by the government to do the song for the inauguration, and anything created by the government is public domain. Obama’s speech, for example, is public domain, since it was part of an official act as president.

  18. Larissa says:

    Thank you Jason B. for saying what I was going to say. I’m glad that people recognize the Shaker Hymn “Simple Gifts” from Appalachian Spring but was sad to see that they thought Aaron Copland write that piece.

  19. Online says:

    Пинайте своего хостера – сайт с трудом открылся :(

  20. Bill Clogston says:

    The music is neither Williams or Copelands. It is originally from an Irish melody, most likely not copyrighted.