President Biden’s inauguration could not feature grand galas or star-studded balls across downtown Washington, in a nod to the coronavirus pandemic and the new administration’s effort to model public health behavior it hopes Americans will adopt.
But presidential inaugurations are also cultural touchstones and moments to do something with millions of eyeballs watching on television and online. So the Presidential Inaugural Committee arranged a 90-minute musical celebration to commemorate the day — one that has the added benefit of demonstrating Mr. Biden’s support from a wide array of A-list performers, something former President Donald J. Trump longed for but never received.
“In the last few weeks, in the last few years, we’ve witnessed deep divisions and a troubling rancor in our land,” said Tom Hanks, the host of the program. “But tonight, we ponder the United States of America — the practice of our democracy.”
The special, which began at 8:30 p.m. Eastern and was carried live by the major networks and most cable news stations, had a lineup featuring Katy Perry, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon Bon Jovi, Ant Clemons, Foo Fighters, John Legend, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen and Justin Timberlake, many of whom campaigned for Mr. Biden and, in past campaigns, for former President Barack Obama.
To open the program, Mr. Springsteen greeted Americans and said he was “proud” to be in Washington. Then he began to perform “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which he offered as “a small prayer for our country.”
As has been the custom at big Democratic political events, viewers then toggled between musical performances by celebrities — many of the songs that were selected featured themes about a bright future — and brief remarks from regular Americans. There was an 8-year-old girl from Wisconsin who raised $50,000 from a virtual lemonade stand to feed the hungry; a nurse from New York who was the first American to receive the coronavirus vaccine; and a UPS driver from Virginia who was beloved by his customers for delivering packages during the pandemic.
The program also featured remarks from Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — who was introduced by Sarah Fuller, the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game — as well as a conversation between former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The night concluded with Katy Perry singing her hit song “Firework” as fireworks lit the night sky, illuminating the Washington Monument behind her. Midway through the performance, Mr. Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, emerged to take in the display for themselves.
“In many ways, this moment embodies our character as a nation,” Ms. Harris — the first woman, first Black person and first person of South Asian descent to hold her office — said in her remarks earlier in the evening. “It demonstrates who we are. Even in dark times, we not only dream. We do.”
“This,” she said, “is American aspiration.”