Tue, January 20, 2009
World > Americas > Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th U.S. President

The stars come out for Obama

2009-01-20 09:14:54 GMT2009-01-20 17:14:54 (Beijing Time)  Forbes

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Washington has often been described as a "Hollywood for ugly people." Barack Obama is changing all that. At least for the weekend.

After keeping clear of the Beltway for the last eight years, A-listers from every corner of show business will swarm the nation's capital to celebrate the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president, a bit star struck themselves.

The festivities kick off Sunday afternoon with a mammoth concert, called "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial." Among the top-tier performers: Beyoncé, Bono, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder. Jamie Foxx, Martin Luther King III, Queen Latifah and Denzel Washington are expected to give historical readings from the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.

Later Sunday, the glitterati will be found at the Renaissance Washington Hotel for an event thrown by Declare Yourself, a campaign for young voter registration founded by television producer Norman Lear. Foxx, crooner John Legend and Maroon 5 will be there. Actress Jessica Alba hosts. Cost? $250 a pop.

That's peanuts compared to tickets for the Creative Coalition's Inaugural Ball, presented by Pepsi on Jan. 20. The $10,000-a-guest fest is sold out, but those rich enough to attend will be in famous company. Confirmed guests include Anne Hathaway, Ron Howard, Ashley Judd, Jane Krakowski, Spike Lee, Susan Sarandon and Stevie Wonder. Also on hand: members of the U.S. Congress.

If you can't afford that, find a TV and tune in to The Oprah Winfrey Show, which will be taped at the Kennedy Center on Monday, Jan. 19. Oprah plans to broadcast her show from another location in the nation's capital later in the week. Few would expect her to miss this event--she was an early Obama supporter, and she held a high-profile fundraiser for his presidential campaign at her Santa Barbara, Calif., home in September 2007.

One place you won't see many celebrities--other than the new president of course--is at the "official" inaugural balls, designated by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Those parties are held primarily by groups of states, although there are also several official balls for youth, members of the military and D.C. residents.

Instead, try the invite-only Recording Industry Association of America and Feeding America charity ball for hunger-relief. Grammy-winning singer Rihanna provides the entertainment.

Or check out Wyclef Jean at the Green Inaugural Ball, sponsored by Discovery's eco-friendly TV station Planet Green, among others. More pensive types are likely to be found at the sold-out Inaugural Peace Ball on Jan. 20. Folk singer Joan Baez and author Alice Walker are on the bill.

Kidding aside, what does Obama's celebrity magnetism really say about Washington's relationship with the Hollywood during the next four years? Very little.

Obama currently enjoys the support of many power players in the entertainment world, but according to the Center for Responsive Politics, that industry only contributed $7.7 million to his presidential campaign. That lags far behind retirees ($40.9 million), lawyers ($38.2 million), educational institutions ($19.9 million) and the securities and investment industry ($13.1 million).

Obama's more likely to be found with academics, such as Harvard professor Cass Sunstein and University of California-Berkeley professor Cristina Romer, and business superstars like Google Chairman and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett.

But at least for a few days, the capital will be glamorous. By Wednesday, it'll just be us ugly people again.

(Brian Wingfield, Forbes.com)

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