WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden will arrive in the nation’s capital on Tuesday evening for an inauguration eve ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool honoring the nearly 400,000 people who have died during the coronavirus pandemic that will be his first priority after he is sworn in the next day.
The somber remembrance will kick off two days of in-person and virtual events as Biden takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, becoming the 46th president of the United States at a time of economic struggle and cultural upheaval in the wake of President Donald Trump’s four years in the White House.
Biden has planned a mix of celebratory, upbeat events to mark the occasion — singer Garth Brooks was the most recent addition to the list of those performing at his swearing-in ceremony — along with more serious moments aimed at marking the grim times that many Americans are facing as he takes office.
Instead of an in-person parade along Pennsylvania Avenue, Biden’s inaugural committee on Monday provided details about a virtual “Parade Across America” that will start at 3:15 Wednesday afternoon after Biden’s swearing-in.
The parade will be kicked off with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris walking to the White House escorted by drum lines from the University of Delaware and Howard University, their alma maters. The virtual “parade” will include performances by the U.S. Coast Guard Band and the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon as well as marching bands, drill teams, Scout troops, dancers and drummers from around the country.
The events will be livestreamed on multiple platforms, officials said.
On Tuesday, Biden and Harris, along with their families, will be present as 400 lights are turned on to illuminate the perimeter of the Reflecting Pool. Each light is meant to represent approximately 1,000 Americans who will have perished from the virus at the time of his swearing-in.
That event will kick off “a national moment of unity” at 5:30 p.m. Eastern that will include similar memorials at the Empire State Building, the Space Needle in Seattle and other landmarks across the country, with events also planned for Biden’s hometowns, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware.
The inauguration “represents the beginning of a new national journey — one that renews its commitment to honor its fallen and rise toward greater heights in their honor,” the inaugural committee’s chief executive, Tony Allen, the president of Delaware State University, said in a statement.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, will deliver the invocation at the Lincoln Memorial event. Two acclaimed gospel singers, Yolanda Adams and Lori Marie Key, will perform at the commemoration.
In recent days, the committee’s staff has reached out to church and civic leaders around the country to participate in the memorial, with a particular focus on involving Black and Latino communities, which have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic.
Biden has said reaching out to people who opposed his candidacy will be a central theme of his inaugural address as he urges a divided America to come together to confront the pandemic and other challenges.
On Monday, officials announced that Brooks would perform on Wednesday afternoon, adding to a growing list of celebrities who will be on hand to usher in the Biden era. In a briefing with reporters, Brooks said he was honored to be part of the peaceful transfer of power.
“I just feel lucky to get to be part of this,” Brooks said. “And what the administration right now is pushing, the main message is unity. Right down my alley, because I think if we’re going to get anywhere, we’re going to get there together.”
Brooks declined to say what he will be singing at the inauguration, but said he would most likely not repeat his rendition of “We Shall Be Free,” which he sang at President Barack Obama’s inauguration 12 years ago.
“There are plenty of songs of love and unity that you can choose from, from the greatest writers, you know around the world,” he said. “Because we’re all humans. We live within the border of the United States, but the truth is, the message that goes out goes out to all of us around the world.”
Biden spent about 45 minutes on Monday morning volunteering at a Philadelphia food bank to mark the national day of service and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The president-elect worked a conveyor belt assembling food boxes at Philabundance, an organization founded in 1984 that distributes food to pantries and emergency shelters across nine counties in Pennsylvania, according to Biden’s transition team.
Wearing a black face mask, a Philabundance baseball cap and his trademark aviator sunglasses, Biden placed canned goods, two at a time, into each food box. And Jill Biden, who will become the first lady on Wednesday, added packages of rice to the boxes while disco music played over loudspeakers.
Joe Biden’s decision to volunteer at the food bank on Monday was consistent with many of his predecessors in both parties who frequently engaged in a public service event on the holiday. Trump largely ignored the service component of the holiday. In 2018, he drew criticism for going to play golf instead.
Trump’s public schedule for Monday indicated, as it has on most days for the last several weeks, that he planned to “work from early in the morning until late in the evening” and “make many calls and have many meetings.”