By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and about 2,000 fans on Friday basked in a performance at the White House by musical legend and activist Elton John, who is on a lengthy farewell tour in the United States.
The British superstar performed hit songs such as “Rocketman,” “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer” from the South Lawn, singing and playing piano in an open air structure set up for the performance, which at one point moved Biden to tears.
“Like so many Americans, our family loves his music,” Biden said when introducing the singer. “It’s clear Elton John’s music has changed our lives.”
John, who declined to play for former President Donald Trump’s inauguration, agreed to perform for the Bidens as one of a handful of mainstream celebrities who are returning to the White House after years of avoiding it.
His performance was part of a celebration to honor people the White House called everyday heroes: nurses, emergency and mental health workers, teachers, LGBTQ+ advocates and activists.
John said playing at the White House was “icing on the cake” after a career of performing in beautiful venues. In between songs he spoke of his fight against HIV/AIDS and praised former President George W. Bush, a Republican, for his efforts to combat AIDS in Africa through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program.
Former first lady Laura Bush was one of the guests at the performance.
John noted that the fight against AIDS in the United States had support from Republicans and Democrats.
“I just wish America could be more bipartisan,” he said.
At the end of the evening, Biden moved John to tears by surprising him with the National Humanities Medal.
“I’m flabbergasted,” John said. “I will treasure this.”
The performance was paid for by A&E Networks and The History Channel, which is part of A&E, and will air at a later date. A&E Networks is a joint venture of Disney-ABC Television Group and Hearst.
The performance was called “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” drawn from a poem by Irish writer Seamus Heaney. Biden regularly quotes Heaney and is an aficionado of Irish sayings and poetry.
Biden has a special relationship with John’s music. He wrote in his 2017 memoir “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose” about singing “Crocodile Rock” to his son Beau as a child and again as an adult when Beau was dying from cancer.
John included that song in his playlist on Friday.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason; Editing by Leslie Adler and Gerry Doyle)