James Taylor kicked things off with characteristic grace, delivering an America The Beautiful free of pomp and circumstance. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, his ageless baritone sweet and pure, Taylor appealed simply and directly to the president and the crowd, who responded with hearty appreciation.
After Obama had been sworn in and delivered a rousing speech, Kelly Clarkson sang My Country 'Tis of Thee, backed by the United States Marine Band. Her version started slowly but gained intensity; if it lacked the fluid fire power of Franklin's, Clarkson's own soulful prowess was evident from the beginning - which showcased the depth and discipline of her lower range - to the final flourish.
Fittingly, it fell to America's sweetheart to close the show with the national anthem; and Beyonce, also supported by the Marine Band, rose to the occasion. Glam but elegant in a a glittering Pucci dress and Lorraine Scwartz emeralds, Beyonce sang robustly and passionately, getting a bit melisma-happy (ornamental) in the middle (and removing her ear piece) but building to a sturdy, joyful finish. She also got a kiss from First Fan Michelle Obama, and her husband.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)