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Elton John turned down megafan Trump's inauguration but sings for White House tonight

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Sir Elton John performs on the White House South Lawn tonight. The 75-year-old singer is taking a break from his farewell tour to headline a special event honoring teachers, students and front line workers. The show may come as a thumb in the eye for one big Elton John fan, former President Donald Trump. NPR's Eric McDaniel has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELTON JOHN SONG, "YOUR SONG")

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: It really has been a long, long time. Elton John hasn't performed at the White House since a 1998 state dinner hosted by President Bill Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELTON JOHN: (Singing) It's a little bit funny, this feeling inside.

MCDANIEL: President Biden dubbed tonight's event, paid for by the History Channel and A&E Networks, A Night When Hope And History Rhyme. The name comes from a poem by a fellow Irish Catholic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: As the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney who once wrote, once in a lifetime, a longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.

MCDANIEL: It's a line that Biden comes back to over and over again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

BIDEN: That we can help make hope and history rhyme once more.

A chance to make hope and history rhyme.

The power to make hope and history rhyme.

MCDANIEL: He says that the line and tonight's performance are about healing and unifying. Though, I guess you could call it the blues for former President Donald Trump, who loves Elton John's music. Here's Trump at a 2016 rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: You know, last night we were in Baton Rouge. We broke a record held for many years by Elton John - my friend Elton John.

MCDANIEL: He used the title of one of the singer's biggest hits, "Rocketman," as a nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. And the classic "Tiny Dancer" was a staple at Trump's rallies. When Trump learned that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, the song is booming in the background.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: She just died? Wow.

JOHN: (Singing) Blue jean baby...

TRUMP: I didn't know that. I just - you're telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say?

MCDANIEL: Trump hasn't commented on tonight's performance, but it could be a sore subject. Elton John performed at Trump's third wedding, but later declined to play his presidential inauguration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELTON JOHN SONG, "I GUESS THAT'S WHY THEY CALL IT THE BLUES")

MCDANIEL: Eric McDaniel, NPR News, the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELTON JOHN SONG, "I GUESS THAT'S WHY THEY CALL IT THE BLUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.