WASHINGTON — It was a day that combined inspiring political rhetoric with the very best of pop culture. Tens of thousands of citizens, a throng more than a mile long on the National Mall, braved frigid weather and long security lines to attend a historic concert celebrating the country's first black president -- held at the feet of the monument honoring the country's great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.
As black-clad sharpshooters patrolled the parapet of the Lincoln Memorial, President-elect Barack Obama and his family had what looked like a rocking good time. They sat with Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife in a glass-walled booth on one side of the stage.
During the two-hour concert, broadcast on HBO, they clapped, danced a little and sang along as they were feted by entertainment royalty -- actors and musicians including Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, Usher, will.i.am, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Shakira, James Taylor, Garth Brooks and Pete Seeger.
Golf great Tiger Woods spoke of growing up in a military family. He introduced the Naval Academy's glee club, which performed with soprano Renee Fleming.
Obama and Biden each spoke briefly, delivering words reminiscent of their campaign speeches -- both addressing the anxiety that has the country in its grip, both promising a better tomorrow.
"In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," Obama said.
"But despite all of this -- despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead -- I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time."
The choice of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay Episcopalian, to give the invocation seemed to be a deliberate counterpoint to Obama's selection of conservative evangelical Rick Warren -- an opponent of same-sex marriage and pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County who is to give the prayer at Obama's swearing-in Tuesday. Robinson urged the crowd to remember that Obama "is a human being, not a messiah" and asked God to "keep him safe . . . that he might find joy in this impossible calling."
Bono, the lead singer of U2, injected the only seemingly unrehearsed political note to the day. Just after Obama's wife, Michelle, blew him a kiss, Bono said Obama's election represented "not just an American dream -- also an Irish dream, a European dream, African dream, Israeli dream and also a Palestinian dream."
Though organizers had promised that songs would reflect the day's slogan "We Are One," and not be a series of greatest hits, U2 performed one of its most recognizable songs: "Pride (In the Name of Love)," a paean to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King III stood on nearly the same spot where his father delivered the famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 that informs much of the emotion evoked by the election of the first black president.
The son of the slain civil rights leader introduced a clip of John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech -- with its noted line, "Ask not what your country can do for you . . . " -- and said that today's holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, should be a day of service to others. (The Obamas and Bidens will be celebrating the holiday by performing yet-unannounced acts of public service.)
Actors emerged onstage in some oddball pairings: Jack Black and Rosario Dawson talked about the environmental activism of Lincoln, who helped create Yosemite, and Teddy Roosevelt, who doubled the number of national parks.
Steve Carell and Foxx evoked Thomas Jefferson and Thurgood Marshall. Foxx did an impersonation of Obama that quoted from his speech at Chicago's Grant Park the night he won the presidential election. He also gave a shout-out to the new president's adopted hometown: "Chi-town stand up!" Foxx said. "312!"
As Chicagoans in the vast crowd cheered in recognition of their area code, the Obamas stood up and waved.
Queen Latifah spoke about "the ongoing journey of America to be America." She noted that in 1939 the great black contralto Marian Anderson had been denied the opportunity to perform at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, prompting then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to arrange for Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson quoted Rosa Parks; Hanks quoted Lincoln.
"I got one question," said comedian George Lopez, who was paired onstage with actor Kal Penn. "Anyone here from outta town?"
As the crowd roared, Lopez said, "Well, you're all home now."