Many Celebrities and Entertainers Are Conflicted Over Appearing at Trump’s Inauguration Festivities

Clockwise from left: Jackie Evancho, Andrea Bocelli, Elton John and Garth Brooks. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts; Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images for Bocelli & Zanetti Night; Mike Segar/Reuters; Jamie Gilliam/Reuters)
Clockwise from left: Jackie Evancho, Andrea Bocelli, Elton John and Garth Brooks. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts; Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images for Bocelli & Zanetti Night; Mike Segar/Reuters; Jamie Gilliam/Reuters)

Several months ago, before the presidential election, San Francisco poet and author Dean Rader found himself engaged in a philosophical debate with some of his fellow poets: If Donald Trump won the presidency, and if he asked one of them to compose a poem to be read at the inauguration, would they agree?

On the one hand, none of them had voted for Trump. Rader didn’t know many politically conservative poets in general, and his friends found Trump’s election in particular to be “terrifying” and offensive. At the same time, poetry was rarely given a national platform in the United States. So if a poet was presented with the opportunity to share her or his art form with the entire listening country, perhaps there would be an artistic responsibility to participate — a sense of duty.

Many of Rader’s friends responded with an unequivocal no; they wouldn’t perform. Others wrestled with the question: “How could I work for a man and administration without becoming one of the ‘fawning half-men?’ ” responded Dana Levin, a lauded Santa Fe poet, in an email to Rader that he later published online. “Would I politely decline such an invite, or use it as a vehicle of public protest, or slink into the wilderness without answer, in hopes I can wait out the regime?”

The hypothetical question from August has now become a literal one for artists. Trump has been elected. His inaugural committee is planning an inauguration — an event that, in President Obama’s terms, included performers ranging from Kelly Clarkson to Yo-Yo Ma. Now, less than a month before that inauguration, Trump’s program is filled with question marks. Currently, just two performers have been publicly confirmed: the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which was announced Thursday, and Jackie Evancho, a 16-year-old classically trained singer who rose to national fame on “America’s Got Talent.” Beyond that there has been silence from official channels on which artists will take part in the Jan. 20 festivities, leading many to speculate that the planning committee is struggling to secure A-list names. A recent “Saturday Night Live” sketch included a dig at the president’s celebrity dearth: a campaign staffer tells Alec Baldwin’s Trump that she’s compiled a list of artists who are willing to perform on Jan. 20. She then hands him a minuscule Post-it.

Many artists have been contacted. Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci said that Elton John would be performing; John’s publicist quickly denied that. “I’m not a Republican in a million years,” John had told the Guardian newspaper, months earlier, when asked about Trump using his music to campaign. “Why not ask Ted f—— Nugent? Or one of those f—— country stars. They’d do it for you.”

Country star Garth Brooks implied he might consider it — “It’s always about serving, it’s what you do,” he told TMZ when he was in the District this month for the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony — but his publicist politely said he had “not been able to commit yet.”

Andrea Bocelli, a best-selling Italian tenor, had offered to perform, according to a television interview given by Thomas Barrack, the chair of Trump’s transition team. Barrack said the singer was told it wasn’t necessary. And meanwhile, some of Bocelli’s 226,000 Twitter followers turned on him, launching a #BoycottBocelli movement. “I love you Andrea,” wrote one such fan. “But I will never listen to you again if you sing for Trump.”

The tweet lays out the tension at hand. Would Bocelli be singing “for Trump?” Or would he be singing for the country? And if there’s a difference, does it matter?

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