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'We Are One' Concert Kicks Off Inaugural Festivities

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

The star attraction, Barack Obama and his family, did make the scene at the Lincoln Memorial today. NPR's Debbie Elliott was there, too. I spoke with her earlier and asked her to describe the crowds.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Well, you know, hundreds of thousands of people had lined the Mall for this historic occasion, lined up all along the Reflecting Pool, stretching all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. And the Lincoln Memorial itself had been turned into this elaborate stage. President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle coming down the steps with Abe Lincoln sitting behind them. The symbolism you mentioned earlier, you know, Abe Lincoln, the great emancipator, as the nation's first African-American president-elect walks down the stage.

ROBERTS: And what was the president-elect's role?

ELLIOTT: You know, for a good part of the show, he just enjoyed it - you heard Garth Brooks singing "American Pie" there. Garth Brooks also did a rendition of "Shout." I looked over at the little glass enclosure where the Obamas were sitting along with the vice president-elect Joe Biden and his wife and some other members of their party, and they were on their feet. And the girls were throwing their hands up to "Shout." So, they enjoyed the show.

But then, the president-elect came and made a speech toward the end, certainly recognizing the theme here. All the great presidents who had come before from Abe Lincoln to FDR to John F. Kennedy.

And in his speech, he acknowledged that, you know, only a handful of generations have faced the challenges that the United States faces today. He said, you know, this is serious. We're a nation at war where we have an economy that's in crisis. And he warned that it wouldn't be fast or easy to address these issues. But while he gave that warning, he also offered a little hope. Let's listen to a bit.

(Soundbite of President-elect Barack Obama's speech at the Lincoln Memorial)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead, I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time.

ROBERTS: And Debbie, Mr. Obama has been giving a lot of speeches. He's going to give a lot more before this inauguration celebration is out. I want to play another bit from him standing at the Lincoln Memorial.

President-elect OBAMA: What gives me the greatest hope of all is not the stone and marble that surrounds us, but what fills the spaces in between. It is you, Americans of every race and region and station who came here because you believe in what this country can be and because you want to help us get there.

ELLIOTT: Yes, certainly this is part of the whole them of today's event, "We Are One." You know, time and time again, speakers took to the stage and quoted Barack Obama from the campaign - you know, that famous quote saying, you know, there is no such thing as red states and blue states, we are the United States of America.

ROBERTS: NPR's Debbie Elliott in Washington. Thank you so much, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Thank you, Rebecca. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.