President Barack Obama names 17 recipients of the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Stephen Sondheim and Itzhak Perlman are among the Hollywood notables who receive the honor on Nov. 24 at the White House.
2009 Barack Obama is inaugurated as US president after having defeated Republican nominee John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Obama is the first African American to hold the office.
No official count is taken of the number of people attending the inaugural ceremony. According to multiple sources, the ceremony has the largest audience of any event ever held in Washington, D.C. Government agencies and federal officials, who coordinate security and traffic management, estimate the attendance count to be 1.8 million people.
Celebrity guests include Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé Knowles, and Steven Spielberg – who is among the donators giving $50,000, the maximum that Obama’s inaugural committee would allow.
For the ceremony, John Williams composes, and arranges the quartet Air and Simple Gifts (videoclip), performed by Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill, and Gabriela Montero.
In his first few days in office, Obama issues executive orders and presidential memoranda directing the U.S. military to develop plans to withdraw troops from Iraq. He orders the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp (but Congress prevents the closure by refusing to appropriate the required funds and preventing moving any Guantanamo detainee into the U.S. or to other countries).
In his speech at Cairo University in Egypt, Obama calls for “A New Beginning” in relations between the Islamic world and the United States and promotes Middle East peace.