WASHINGTON (AP) — Elton John said Friday he played in some great venues, but the stage outside the White House, under a huge tent on a perfect fall night, was “probably the icing on the cake.”
Then he kicked off the show with “Your Song”, his first big international hit.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcomed the 75-year-old singer, talking about his activism, the power of his music and his general kindness. The event was imagined and financed by A+E and History Channel.
“Seamus Heaney once wrote, and I quote, ‘Once in a lifetime, the long-awaited tidal wave of justice may rise, and hope and history rhyme,’ Biden said. Throughout his incredible career, Sir Elton John has been that tidal wave, a tidal wave to help people rise up and bring hope and history together.
At the end of the show, Biden surprised John with the National Humanities Medal, for his songbook and long legacy of advocacy.
Tearfully, John said he was “flabbergasted and humbled”.
The 2,000-person guest list included teachers, nurses, frontline workers and LGBTQ advocates, as well as former first lady Laura Bush, civil rights lawyer Ruby Bridges, education Malala Yousafzai and Jeanne White-Ginder, an AIDS activist and mother of Ryan White, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.
The night, in fact, was called “A night where hope and history rhyme”, a reference to the poem Biden quoted by the Irishman Heaney.
It was John’s first concert at the White House since performing with Stevie Wonder at a 1998 state dinner honoring British Prime Minister Tony Blair. At 75, John is on a farewell tour after performing for over 50 years.
The show reunited after A+E Networks and History Channel, who footed the bill, asked the White House and John if they would be up for a collaboration honoring “history makers of all”. days” as well as John himself, according to the people. familiar with the discussions who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.
It is unclear 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 over $525 million to fight the virus around the world.
John will be in town on Saturday to play at 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 the first lady are big fans. Biden wrote in a 2017 memoir about singing “Crocodile Rock” to his two young boys as he drove them to school, and later to his son Beau before he died of cancer at age 46.
“I started singing Beau’s lyrics, quietly, so we could both 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 on Friday, saying someone told him Biden was singing it.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was also a fan of John. He tried to have John play at his inauguration in 2017, but John refused, saying he didn’t think it was appropriate for a Briton to play at the swearing-in of a US president.
The White House has insisted Friday’s show was not an effort to troll Trump, who has praised John in his books and often featured John’s music – including ‘Rocket Man’ and “Tiny Dancer” – in his pre-rally playlists over the years. Trump has dubbed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the “rocket man” for his record of missile testing.
John performed “Tiny Dancer” on Friday, to thunderous applause.
Sir Elton – he was knighted in 1998 by Queen Elizabeth II – has sold over 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 revamp of “Candle In The Wind.” to praise Princess Diana, which has sold 33 million copies.
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