AP

‘Let’s have some music’: Elton John plays White House

Sep 22, 2022, 11:07 PM | Updated: Sep 24, 2022, 1:26 pm

Elton John performs on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. Joh...

Elton John performs on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. John is calling the show "A Night When Hope and History Rhyme," a reference to a poem by Irishman Seamus Heaney that President Joe Biden often quotes. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — “God bless you, let’s have some music,” said Elton John.

With that, the White House South Lawn was transformed into a musical lovefest Friday night as John played a farewell gig to honor everyday “heroes” like teachers, nurses and AIDS activists. But as it turns out, the event was also to honor the 75-year-old British songwriter — President Joe Biden surprised him with the National Humanities Medal for being a “tidal wave” who helped people rise up for justice.

John seemed almost overcome by the accolades, telling the audience of 2,000 people: “I don’t know what to say. … I don’t know how to take a compliment very well but it’s wonderful to be here amongst so many people who have helped my AIDS foundation and my heroes, that ones that work day to day on the front line.”

He said he’d played some beautiful venues before, but the stage in front of the White House, beneath a massive open-air tent on a perfect autumn night, was “probably the icing on the cake.”

He kicked off the show with “Your Song,” his first big international hit.

The intimate guest list included teachers, nurses, frontline workers and LGBTQ advocates, plus former first lady Laura Bush, civil rights advocate Ruby Bridges, education activist Malala Yousafzai and Jeanne White-Ginder, an AIDS activist and mother of Ryan White, who died from AIDS-related complications in 1990.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden talked about the British singer’s activism, the power of his music and his all-around goodness. The event was dreamed up and paid for by A+E and the History Channel.

“Seamus Heaney once wrote, and I quote, ‘Once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme,” Biden said. “Throughout his incredible career, Sir Elton John has been that tidal wave, a tidal wave to help people rise up and make hope and history rhyme.”

The night, in fact, was called “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” a reference to the poem Biden quoted by Ireland’s Heaney.

Sir Elton — he was knighted in 1998 by Queen Elizabeth II — has sold over 300 million records worldwide, played over 4,000 shows in 80 countries and recorded one of the best-selling singles of all time, his 1997 reworking of “Candle In The Wind” to eulogize Princess Diana, which sold 33 million copies.

John punctuated the hits Friday with emotional tidbits of his history, including a shoutout to Laura Bush and former president George W. Bush for his administration’s emergency plan for AIDS relief, and a story of how a dying Ryan White and his mother pushed him into advocacy in the first place, and helped him get sober.

“I wouldn’t be here talking tonight,” he said. “They saved my life.”

He then dedicated “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” to Ryan.

Despite the presence of plenty of lawmakers, the political speak was kept to a minimum, except for when John said, “I just wish America would be more bipartisan on everything.”

It was his first White House gig since he performed with Stevie Wonder at a state dinner in 1998 honoring British Prime Minister Tony Blair. John is on a farewell tour that began in July after performing for more than 50 years.

The show came together after A+E Networks and the History Channel asked the White House and John if they’d be up for a collaboration honoring “everyday history-makers” as well as John himself.

It’s not clear whether the show will be broadcast. John has worked with A+E in the past on his global HIV/AIDS charity, the Elton John Foundation, which has raised more than $525 million to combat the virus around the world.

John is sticking around to play a sold-out show at Nationals Park Saturday.

The president and first lady are big fans. Biden wrote in a 2017 memoir about singing “Crocodile Rock” to his two young boys as he drove them to school, and again later to son Beau before he died of cancer at age 46.

“I started singing the lyrics to Beau, quietly, so just the two of us could hear it,” Biden wrote. “Beau didn’t open his eyes, but I could see through my own tears that he was smiling.”

John played the song Friday, saying someone told him Biden used to sing it to his little boys. “I can’t imagine him singin’ it,” John quipped before suggesting the president come up on stage. He did not. But the whole crowd did do the “La-La-Las” from their seats.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was also a fan of John. He tried to get John to perform at his 2017 inauguration but John declined, saying he didn’t think it was appropriate for a Brit to play at the swearing-in of an American president.

The White House insisted Friday’s show wasn’t an effort to troll Trump, who has praised John in his books and has often featured John’s music — including “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer” — in his pre-rally playlists over the years. Trump nicknamed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “rocket man” for his record of test-firing missiles.

John played both Friday, to thunderous applause.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Photo: A delegate wears a hat with pins during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, ...

Christine Fernando, Steve People and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Rep. Walsh speaks for Washington as cheering GOP delegates nominate Trump for president

Cheering GOP delegates formally nominated Donald Trump for president at Monday's Republican National Convention kickoff.

1 hour ago

Photo: Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former Presi...

Jill Colvin, Julie Carr Smyth, Steve Peoples and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Trump picks Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, a once-fierce critic turned loyal ally, as his GOP running mate

Donald Trump named Sen. JD Vance of Ohio as his running mate, choosing a onetime critic who became a loyal ally.

6 hours ago

trump assassination...

Ayanna Alexander, The Associated Press

What to know about Trump assassination attempt and the investigation into the shooting

Authorities want to know how a shooter was able to get on top of a roof so close to where former President Donald Trump was speaking and open fire.

10 hours ago

Photo: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret...

Julie Carr Smyth, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

Trump heads to convention as authorities investigate motive, security in assassination attempt

Trump called for unity and resilience after an attempt on his life added fresh uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential campaign.

1 day ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday,...

Will Weissert and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

In primetime address, Biden says country must not go down road of political violence

President Joe Biden says “we can’t, we must not go down” the road of political violence in America after the attempted Trump assassination.

1 day ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Washington, Thu...

Zeke Miller, Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long, The Associated Press

Biden says during news conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

Biden used his highly anticipated news conference to deliver a defense of his policies and batted away questions about his ability to serve.

4 days ago

‘Let’s have some music’: Elton John plays White House