Oklahoma represented on inauguration stage as Biden calls for unity

WASHINGTON — Native sons who rose from small towns to touch the hearts of worldwide audiences, Garth Brooks and Woody Guthrie represented Oklahoma during Wednesday’s inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden.

Lady Gaga, a longtime friend and supporter of Biden, sang the national anthem. She turned heads as she graced the stage in a couture ball gown accessorized with an extravagant gilded dove of peace brooch.

Next up, Jennifer Lopez performed a medley of patriotic songs. She too was dressed to the nines, combining business and elegance in a suffragette white blouse and floor-length trench coat.

Then there was Brooks.

Fully representing his Oklahoma and country roots, Brooks sauntered onstage in blue jeans, a large belt buckle and a black sport coat. He donned a black cowboy hat as well, only to sweep it off his head as he began singing “Amazing Grace.”

“He’s just himself,” said Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby. “He is down to earth… and there’s nothing fake about him, and so I’m sure he was there, just being Garth.” 

Yukon is Brooks’ hometown.

During his performance, Brooks paused to ask the audience to sing the final verse with him.

“I’m going to ask you to sing this last verse with me, not just the people here, but the people at home, at work, as one, united,” Brooks said, echoing Biden’s speech in his call for unity. 

Since 1907, few Oklahomans have had the honor to be onstage during a presidential inauguration. Brooks now claims that honor, along with former Speaker of the House Carl Albert and Sen. Robert S. Kerr.

Lopez’s medley included “This Land is Your Land.” The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa tweeted in response that it was “honored” that Lopez performed the anthem of the songwriter who championed the cause of the working man. 

From the Black Lives Matter Plaza, where the events of the inauguration were played over the heads of the crowd on a speaker set up on a stand, protestors applauded throughout Biden’s inaugural speech and became silent again for Brooks’ performance. 

Some who were caught up in the moment sang along with Brooks, while others were less impressed.

Karen Irwin, a Black Lives Matter protester from Indiana who has been protesting in Washington for four months, said she was not supportive of Brooks being chosen as one of the entertainers; she does not think his fan base is aligned with her cause.  

Yukon’s mayor thought Brook’s performance fit right in with Biden’s calls for unity.

“To sing Amazing Grace, and to sing it at a place in our history where that’s what we need… (We need) the amazing grace of God to get us all to be unified and back as one nation under God,” Selby said.

Gaylord News is a Washington-based reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.