AMERICAN SONGBAG

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Associated Press

Posted on January 21, 2013 at 7:07 PM

It was at 6:31 p.m. tonight, just before the inaugural parade ended, that the bagpipers passed the president's reviewing stand playing their oddly compelling medley of "America, the Beautiful" and "God Bless America." One wonders whether Irving Berlin ever considered what it would be like to hear his famous song in bagpipe.

Barack Obama began the second term of his presidency today in many ways. You could say he began it leading a fractious nation (many did). You could say he began it with daunting tasks at hand (certainly true). Or you could say, quite accurately, that he began his second four years as leader of the free world by spending quite a bit of time listening to unusual and diverse versions of American musical standards.

The works of John Philip Sousa, who was born on Capitol Hill in 1854, turned up more than once, and one wonders how many people these days can identify "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1896) anymore. "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (1831) made several appearances, too, with few people perhaps considering that it shares a melody with Britain's "God Save the Queen."

This after some high-ticket performers tried their hands. James Taylor pulled off a very affecting "America the Beautiful" (first published in 1910). Kelly Clarkson chimed in with an offbeat "My Country 'Tis of Thee." And Beyonce belting out "The Star-Spangled Banner"? Electric.

The inevitable "Hail to the Chief," of course, which was first used for the president in the early 1800s, popped up regularly through the day, and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (1861) echoed through the streets of Washington more than once as well. If you were watching and listening, you heard the best of the American songbag presented in ways as varied and diverse as America itself. Exciting stuff.

Too bad the parade's over, though. A few more minutes and who knows? We might have been treated to Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" — on the Australian didgeridoo.

— Ted Anthony — Twitter http://twitter.com/anthonyted

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Inauguration Watch follows the events of President Barack Obama's second inaugural. Look for short items and photos throughout the day.

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