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Inaugural Committees Settle on Musicians, Poets … and Sour Cream Ice Cream

Planning for the 57th presidential inauguration has taken place largely behind closed doors in the previous months as contracts are signed, logistics are debated and security parameters are put into place. But as President Barack Obama’s Jan. 21 Capitol swearing-in ceremony draws near, the two main coordinating committees working to execute the big event are rolling out the details everyone’s been waiting for: Who’s going to sing, and what’s Obama going to eat?

The Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is responsible for the programming portion of the inaugural ceremony, announced Wednesday that mainstream music superstars Beyoncé, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson will be performing the national anthem, “My Country Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful,” respectively.

It is not the first time Beyoncé has performed for or participated in Obama-related events. At a 2009 inaugural ball, she sang the Etta James classic “At Last” during the first couple’s first dance, and late last year, she and her husband, musician Jay-Z, hosted a fundraiser.

Taylor is not a stranger either: In 2011, Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts at the White House.

The PIC also announced Wednesday that Richard Blanco will serve as the ceremony’s inaugural poet.

There have only been four inaugural poets before him: Robert Frost in 1961, Maya Angelou in 1993, Miller Williams in 1997 and Elizabeth Alexander in 2009. Still, Blanco will have the distinction of being the youngest inaugural poet to read at the ceremony, as well as the first Latino and the first gay man to serve in the role.

And then there’s the traditional luncheon that follows the swearing-in ceremony, where about 200 guests made up of Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members and congressional leadership will break bread in Statuary Hall with Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and their families.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which is responsible for coordinating the logistics for inaugural events taking place on Capitol grounds, orchestrates the luncheon. This year, the creative choices also reflect the theme of “Faith in America’s Future,” conceived of by JCCIC Chairman Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in recognition of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Statue of Freedom’s installation atop the Capitol Dome.

The floral centerpiece will be a rose called the “Free Spirit,” and the flags flown over the Capitol during the swearing-in ceremony will be displayed on an iron table made for President Abraham Lincoln on the occasion of his second inauguration. The table was constructed from the same materials used for many of the decorative elements on the Capitol Dome.

Even the lunch’s menu, imagined by the JCCIC and Arlington, Va.-based catering company Design Cuisine, is in keeping with the theme. According to the committee’s Wednesday release, the food was chosen to highlight “American agricultural products that have long been popular in our cuisine” and “is a celebration of American farms and agriculture, with a nod to their bright future and continued place in our culture.”

Dishes will include a steamed lobster with New England chowder; hickory-grilled bison with wild huckleberry reduction and red potato horseradish cake. The meal will be rounded out by apple pie, sour cream ice cream, aged cheese and honey.

Other portions of the luncheon reflect Schumer’s home state, such as a dry riesling wine from New York and a performance by the string quartet from the University of Rochester’s renowned Eastman School of Music. The privilege of incorporating state imports into the luncheon’s programming is a tradition for senators who are tapped to chair the congressional committee.

As for gifts to the president and vice president — another inaugural luncheon tradition — the JCCIC will present “tall, tapering, hand-cut and etched crystal vases created  . . .  exclusively for the 2013 inaugural luncheon” by the vice president for design of the tableware company Lenox and hand-cut by a master glass-cutter.

Obama’s vase will feature the design of the White House “with extensive foliage.” For Biden, a former senator, his vase will be etched with the image of the Capitol and iconic cherry trees. Each vase will sit atop a crystal base engraved with each man’s name and the date: “January 21, 2013.”

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