WASHINGTON — Gospel and soul set the tone on Sunday afternoon for “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.” The African-American music that finds the promise of hope amid tribulation was just about everybody’s music at an all-star event designed to be somberly uplifting and devout, as well as celebratory without triumphalism.
A swaying, red-robed gospel choir started Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” his song about a Sept. 11 rescuer who finds a kind of resurrection in his sacrifice. A choir joined John Mellencamp on the “Ain’t that America” choruses of “Pink Houses,” which also mentions wanting a boy to grow up to be president.
The county music star Garth Brooks had a youth choir — in red and blue windbreakers — singing along as he segued “American Pie” into the Isley Brothers’ soul classic “Shout” and then his own ’We Shall Be Free,” a gospel-rooted song about community and the end of discrimination. And the concert’s finale belonged to Beyoncé, whose “America the Beautiful” started out sultry and turned into a hymn.
In some ways, “We Are One” was the kind of all-star inaugural pageant that also began the Clinton presidency: pop performances sandwiched between quotations from presidents — and, at “We Are One,” from Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall — calling for unity and renewal. Hundreds of thousands of people attended, and it was telecast and broadcast live by HBO and National Public Radio.
Agenda points were ticked off: the economy, the environment, the arts, respect for the military, community service. After quotations from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy came Mary J. Blige, belting the affirmations of Bill Withers’ gospelly hit “Lean on Me”; HBO’s cameras showed Michelle Obama singing along. Mr. Springsteen and one of his role models, the 89-year-old folk and agitprop singer Pete Seeger,
Yet “We Are One” was also very consciously a recognition that Mr. Obama is America’s first African-American president-elect. There was video from the concert Marian Anderson gave at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after being refused the use of Constitution Hall. When the sexagenarian soul singer Bettye LaVette and the New Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” they changed the last verse to declare: “A change has come.” And when U2 sang “Pride (In the Name of Love),” its song about Martin Luther King, Bono spoke about the 1963 March on Washington and added, “On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass!”
Bono also changed the lyrics of U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” to praise Mr. Obama and vow, “America is getting ready to leave the ground.” He also offered what may have been the concert’s only contentious, off-message moment; during “Pride,” he preached about Ireland, Europe and Africa sharing Martin Luther King’s dream and added, “It’s also a Palestinian dream.”
Reflecting the current state of pop, a plurality of the program’s stars were R&B singers — so many of them that they often shared songs. Usher and Shakira sang verses of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”; Mr. Wonder presided from a platform, playing his clavinet, and sang an a cappella “O-ba-ma” as a playful postscript.
Heather Headley, a Broadway star who just released a gospel album, joined the operatic singer Josh Groban in “America,” adding churchy flourishes. John Legend out-sang James Taylor on Mr. Taylor’s “Shower the People,” which also featured the country singer Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland. And Will.i.am, whose music-video adapation of an Obama speech became the widely seen online hit “Yes We Can,” was joined by Herbie Hancock on keyboard and Sheryl Crow in Bob Marley’s reverent “One Love”; in it, he rapped, “to discriminate only generates hate.”
It was, by design, a concert full of messages about an inclusive America. Its penultimate song had Mr. Seeger, who survived being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, leading a singalong on a full-length version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” with one of his admirers, Mr. Springsteen, by his side. Tom Hanks narrated Aaron Copland’s orchestral setting of quotations from Lincoln, “A Lincoln Portrait.”
But not all was earnestness. When Jamie Foxx followed quotations from Thurgood Marshall with quotations from Mr. Obama, he did an affectionate impression of Mr. Obama’s own delivery — drawing laughs down the length of the mall, and a broad, delighted smile from the president-elect.