The celebrations: Man of the hour walks among his faithful followers

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

He didn't shake any hands, was surrounded by dozens of secret service agents, and only left his new heated Cadillac for a few minutes. But Barack Obama's first walkabout as US President succeeded in warming-up a crowd which had been shivering on Capitol Hill since well before dawn.

The two-mile journey from the Capitol's Statuatory Hall, where he had eaten lunch, to the "reviewing stand" outside the White House, from which new Presidents enjoy their inaugural parade, was witnessed by an estimated two million cheering spectators lining either side of Pennsylvania Avenue.

It was the most American of spectacles: a gas-guzzling motor vehicle, proceeding at walking pace, along a route any healthy adult would be perfectly capable of walking. Roughly 100 flashing police cars and motorcycles followed. The entourage was completed by two floats, carrying rolling news teams.

Onlookers hoping for a proper glimpse of the new President and First Lady had their wishes briefly granted when his Cadillac – a bullet-proof behemoth dubbed "The Beast" - paused close to Freedom Plaza. To hysterical cheers, the smiling couple emerged, before waving as they walked a few hundred yards.

When the minus four degree temperatures became too much, the Obamas returned to their vehicle and were slowly driven the remaining distance to their destination. There they joined 300 guests to watch the parade, which featured ninety marching band and was scheduled to last two hours.

For the crowds, it was a fitting centerpiece to a day that had previously seen a poet, a preacher, four classical musicians, and America's greatest living soul diva handed the task of de-frosting them during the inauguration ceremony.

The formal business of oaths and speeches was delivered in tandem with a selection of readings and performances that were intended to add an element of fun to the pomp and circumstance surrounding the inauguration of America's first black President.

Aretha Franklin stole the early part of the show, belting out a note-perfect reworking of "My Country 'Tis Of Thee" in a gospel style that managed to strike a perfect balance between tub-thumping patriotism and schmaltz.

The 66-year-old Queen of Soul looked magisterial as she serenaded the crowd, wearing an enormous overcoat topped by a grey hat with a diamond-encrusted bow and drawing virtually the entire audience to its feet in noisy applause.

Immediately beforehand, Pastor Rick Warren, a televangelist who founded the Saddleback mega-church in Orange County, California, had kicked off the proceedings with a religious "invocation".

Mr Warren's selection for the job had caused controversy when it was announced last month, because he vociferously supported California's recent ban on gay marriage. Perhaps as a result, he drew a half-hearted reception, even during his lively rendition of The Lord's Prayer.

He wasn't the only man on the swearing-in stand who got a hostile reception. TV news footage which surfaced on YouTube later in the day showed outgoing President George Bush getting hissed and booed at by large sections of the crowd.

A classical quartet got the ceremony's prime spot, between the swearing-in of Joe Biden and Barack Obama. They performed a new piece by John Williams the composer best known for having written the themes to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jaws.

The group contained perhaps the world's two best-known classical musicians, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the violinist Itzhak Perlman, accompanied by Gabriela Montero on piano and Anthony McGill on clarinet.

They performed a specially commissioned track called "Air and Simple Gifts", which, in the words of Williams, centred around "an exuberant rendering" of "The Gift to Be Simple," a traditional Shaker hymn that featured in Aaron Copland's 1944 ballet, Appalachian Spring.

The performance of the piece was intended to right a historic wrong: Copland's "Lincoln's Portrait" was to have been performed at Dwight Eisenhower's inauguration in 1953 but was banned at the last minute amid complaints about his liberal politics.

Yet despite the historic pertinence, it seemed to fall flat. The piece would have been perfect for a concert hall, but Washington's blustery winter air carried away many of its subtleties.

Earlier reports stated that Perlman and Ma were worried about the outdoor venue, and had pre-recorded a performance of the track, in case the weather interfered with their instruments. In the event, they were probably right to be concerned.

At four-and-a-half minutes long, "Air and Simple Gifts" seemed to drag, too – a fate also suffered by Elizabeth Alexander, who was handed the poisoned chalice of writing and delivering the inauguration poem.

Mrs Alexander, who is a friend of the Obamas and an African-American professor at Yale, is a fine poet. But her lengthy piece drifted into pomposity, and provided a reminder of the struggles often faced by poet laureates and other writers who are asked to deliver verse to order, to jollify events of national significance.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Event Management and Marketing Admin Support

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Central London based firm loo...

Recruitment Genius: Events / Conference Operations Manager

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot