Washington (AFP) – Elton John said Friday he’s played in some pretty good places, but the stage in front of the White House, under a huge tent on a perfect autumn night, was probably “the icing on the cake.”
He then kicked off the show with “Your Song”, his first major 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 overall benevolence. The event was dreamed up and paid for by A+E and the History Channel.
“Seamus Heaney once wrote, and I quote, ‘Once in a lifetime, a tidal wave of justice can rise, hope and the rhyme of history,'” Biden said. Throughout his remarkable career, Sir Elton John has been the tidal wave, the tidal wave to help people rise and make hope and rhyme history.”
At the end of the show, Biden surprised John with the National Humanities Medal, for his lyric book and long legacy of advocacy.
“Stunned and humbled,” said John, tearful.
The guest list of 2,000 people included teachers, nurses, front-line workers and LGBT advocates, as well as former first lady Laura Bush, civil rights advocate Robbie Bridges, education activist Malala Yousafzai, AIDS activist Jane White Jinder and mother of Ryan White . He died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.
In fact, the night was called “The Night of Hope and the Rhyme of History,” in reference to a Biden poem quoted by Heaney of Ireland.
This was John’s first concert at the White House since he performed with Stevie Wonder at a state dinner in 1998 in honor of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. At the age of 75, John is on a farewell tour after performing for over 50 years.
The offer came together after A+E Networks and History Channel, which paid the bill, asked the White House and John to be willing to honor “everyday history makers” as well as John himself, according to people familiar with the discussions who spoke to the AP on the condition that no To be identified to discuss internal planning.
It is not clear if the show will be broadcast. John has worked with A+E in the past on his global HIV/AIDS charity, the Elton John Foundation, which has raised more than $525 million to fight the virus worldwide.
John will be in town on Saturday to play Nationals Park as part of his final tour. The final stop of the North American Farewell Series opened in Philadelphia in July.
The president and first lady are big fans. In his 2017 memoir, Biden wrote of singing “Crocodile Rock” to his two boys as he drove them to school, and again later to his son Beau before he died of cancer at age 46.
“She started softly singing Beau’s lyrics, so we could just hear her,” Biden wrote. “Boo didn’t open his eyes, but I could see through my 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 a fan of John as well. He tried to get John to perform at his 2017 inauguration, but John refused, saying he didn’t think it was appropriate for a Briton to play in the swearing-in of an American president.
The White House insisted that Friday’s show was not an attempt to manipulate Trump, who has praised John in his books and often featured John’s music — including “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer” — in his pre-gather playlists over the years. Trump has dubbed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” for his record of missile tests.
John played “Tiny Dancer” on Friday, to thunderous applause.
Sir Elton – who was knighted in 1998 by Queen Elizabeth II – has sold more than 300 million records worldwide, played over 4,000 shows in 80 countries and recorded one of the best-selling singles of all time, a reworking of the film “Candle in the Wind” in 1997 to memorialize Princess Diana, which sold 33 million copies.
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