Joe Biden inauguration: John Legend to Lady Gaga - a guide to the celebrations

January 14, 2021

On Wednesday, Joe Biden will be formally sworn in as the 46th president of the United States - part of an inauguration ceremony he hopes will start a national healing process after four divisive years.

To that end, the president-elect and his Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) plan to showcase a diverse America, emphasising "the beginning of a new national journey, one that restores the soul of America and brings Americans together".

Watch and follow events on Sky News from 2pm, with the inauguration ceremony starting at 5pm.

Here is your guide to the day's events:

Star power

Remember 2016, when some big names in showbiz turned down invitations to perform for Donald Trump, aghast at his shock victory over Hillary Clinton?

No such issues for his successor, whose ceremony organisers have lined up two of the biggest names in entertainment as headliners.

Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, while Jennifer Lopez will give a musical performance.

"They represent one clear picture of the grand diversity of our great nation," his team said in a statement, while noting Lady Gaga's advocacy of LGBTQ rights and health issues, and Lopez's work raising awareness about the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Latinos.


Emphasising the changing mood in Washington, a career firefighter, Andrea Hall, will lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

She and Amanda Gorman, the inaugural US National Youth Poet Laureate, who will give a poetry reading, are both black.

Two members of the clergy will take part, one of whom, Reverend Silvester Beaman of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, is a pastor from Biden's hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

Dr Beaman will give the benediction, organisers have announced.

He and Father Leo O'Donovan, a Catholic priest who will give the invocation, are both close to the Biden family.

Ms Gorman will be continuing a tradition - for Democratic presidents - that includes such celebrated poets as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

She has been in touch with other recent readers, poets Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco.


Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in on the West Front of the US Capitol as usual, but not every tradition will be followed.

Living former presidents usually attend, but there will be no Donald Trump, who refuses to go.

The other previous occupants of the White House, Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton and their wives will be there.

There will be an inspection of the troops at the Capitol, but the traditional parade along Pennsylvania Avenue - the road outside the White House - which usually follows has been cancelled.

In a sign of the times, one of the more prominent inauguration galas, The Creative Coalition's quadrennial ball, a benefit for arts education, is entirely virtual this year.

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No crowds

The National Mall, where thousands traditionally gather to see the new president sworn in - will be closed to the public on inauguration day, NBC News said, quoting two federal officials from different agencies.

Organisers had already announced that it would not be issuing tickets for those who can attend closer to the ceremony, but this latest closure extends to the entire Mall area.

Only authorised people will be allowed in, one official said, such as those working on the entertainment programme planned for later in the evening.

This is a big departure from the practice of past inaugurations which won't look good for the cameras, but at least there'll be no endless rows about how many people were there.

Heavy security

Up to 21,000 members of the US National Guard have been authorised to be in Washington to help provide security.

Their task is to ensure there is no repeat of the chaos and violence of the deadly riot at the US Capitol by making sure no one is there who shouldn't be.

The total is roughly four times the number of American troops currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

The deployment reflects continuing anger - and fear - stemming from the attack on Congress by pro-Trump supporters, which resulted in an historic second impeachment for the president.

Only about 8,000 National Guard members were present during Mr Trump's own inauguration in 2017.

The Department of Homeland Security is also implementing a security lockdown in downtown Washington.

In a sign of the growing anxiety in the city, Mr Biden has decided not to travel there from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, by train.

The TV special

With little in the way of public interaction because of the pandemic, the PIC has organised a prime-time Inauguration Day TV programme entitled "Celebrating America" for the evening.

It will air between 8.30pm and 10pm coast to coast, featuring remarks by the president-elect and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, celebrity performances and segments highlighting "America's resiliency".

Hosted by Tom Hanks, it will include performances by Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ant Clemons and Jon Bon Jovi and "celebrate the beginning of a new national journey toward an America united", organisers said.

Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington will introduce segments throughout the night ranging from stories of young people making a difference in their communities, to musical performances.

Foo Fighters, John Legend, and Bruce Springsteen will perform from iconic locations across the country.

The programme showcases "the American people's resilience, heroism, and unified commitment to coming together as a nation to heal and rebuild".

The show will be carried live by major broadcasters ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and MSNBC as well as being streamed live on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch and Amazon Prime Video.

The committee said in a statement: "This inauguration represents the beginning of a new national journey, one that restores the soul of America and brings Americans together."

Five-day celebration

There will also be a series of events over five days next week under the banner of "America United".

It begins on Monday with "United We Serve", a National Day of Service on what is Martin Luther King Jr Day.

Tuesday sees a nationwide COVID-19 Memorial to Lives Lost.

As well as the inaugural ceremonies, Wednesday has a wreath-laying service at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

The customary parade along Pennsylvania Avenue has been replaced with a "Parade Across America".

A public art display, named "Field Of Flags", made up of 191,500 US flags and 56 pillars of light, will cover part of the National Mall to represent every US state and territory and those unable to travel to the capital.

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