Stars strike a historic note for Obama


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Under the gaze of Abraham Lincoln's white marble statue, Bruce Springsteen and a red robed gospel choir kicked off a four-day inaugural party on the National Mall yesterday, before an audience of tens of thousands.

Dressed all in black Springsteen sang his anthem "The Rising," which was co-opted by the Obama campaign for the election. The crowd stretching off into the distance erupted in wild cheers when Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, arrived at the memorial to take their seats behind a thick security screen of bulletproof glass.

A number of actors rose to address the crowd including Denzel Washington who announced, "We are all in this together." Tom Hanks, appeared in a dark suit and read a tribute to Abraham Lincoln. As Forrest Gump he famously gave a speech from the same spot and jumped into the reflecting pool.

Jamie Foxx repeatedly urged those from Chicago to make some noise: "Chi-town, stand up!" he demanded before doing a quick impersonation of the president-elect.

With all the glitz of a Hollywood awards ceremony, stars including Beyoncé, Bono, Garth Brooks and others took the stage to deliver paeans of praise and even impersonate the first black president in the "We Are One" concert. Mary J. Blige sang, "Lean on Me."

Many in the audience sang along with Beyonce's tearful finale, "America the Beautiful." The crowd stretched past the reflecting pool where an earlier generation of Americans heard Martin Luther King give his "I have a Dream" speech at a time of great unrest over the denial of civil rights for blacks.

Near the conclusion it was Mr Obama's turn to thank the performers for "reminding us, through songs and through words, just what it is that we love about America."

His short speech brimmed with inspiration for the future but was leavened with worries that expectations are already way too high for what can be achieved once his presidency starts tomorrow.

"Only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," Mr Obama said.

"Our nation is at war, our economy is in crisis millions of Americans are losing their jobs and their homes. ... they are anxious and uncertain about the future, about whether this generation of Americans will be able to pass on what's best about this country to our children and their children."

"I won't pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy. It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many. Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our resolve as a nation."