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President Obama Invited to Speak on His Model’s 200th Birthday

WASHINGTON – The invitations are out for the signature event of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial celebration on Feb. 12! At the top of the invitation list is President Obama, who frequently invokes Lincoln and his all-American ideals as a model to be emulated even in contemporary times.

Michael Feinstein, incomparable interpreter of the nation’s best-loved music, will be joined by award-winning poets Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni for an 8 a.m. wreath-laying ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial co-hosted by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and Foundation. 

The 200th birthday festivities will include Feinstein’s fresh interpretation of the National Anthem, accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps Band, and also his rendition of lyrics written for him by Angelou especially for the occasion.  Giovanni will recite from her own new work commemorating the Bicentennial.  Rhode Island Senior Justice (and ALBC Commissioner) Frank J. Williams will be joined by a group of school children from Washington, DC’s Thomson Elementary School for a recitation of the Gettysburg Address.

Following the ceremony, which is free and open to the public, Feinstein will treat ALBC supporters to a concert of selections from the Great American Songbook repertoire at a birthday breakfast served in a heated tent on the Memorial grounds. Tickets to the breakfast are $125 per person and may be purchased on the ALBC Website, www.abrahamlincoln200.org, under “Latest News.” Proceeds will support the ongoing mission of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission Foundation.

There could be no more appropriate entertainer than Michael Feinstein for this quintessentially American event.  A celebrated singer and pianist and four-time Grammy Award nominee, he has worked tirelessly to research and revive more than a half-century of American popular music. The Library of Congress elected him to the elite National Sound Recording Advisory Board, and he has completed a six-part video series on the history of the American popular song, ranging from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway, jazz, and more.

But it will be his captivating voice and singular style that add a special grace note to the morning’s celebration. Joining him for the wreath-laying ceremony will be two world-renowned poets whose works reflect the challenge and the promise of the Lincoln legacy.

Angelou is known best for the lyricism of her verse and for her moving, multi-volume autobiography, beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1970 to critical and popular acclaim and now a modern American classic. She has published more than 30 collections of poetry, essays, stories and memoirs. She is now Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Maya Angelou has rightly been called “America’s Renaissance Woman.”  She has been a cable car conductor, a nightclub singer, a stage star who toured Europe in Porgy and Bess, a lyricist, an educator, a journalist and a dancer who studied with Martha Graham and worked with Alvin Ailey.  In the 1950s and 1960s, she joined other African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. At President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, she read a poem composed for the occasion, On the Pulse of the Morning.

Prize-winning poet Nikki Giovanni says she prides herself on being “a Black American, a daughter, a mother, a professor of English.”  A graduate of Fisk University, she went on to attend Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her first book of verse, Black Feeling Black Talk, was published in 1968, the first of many volumes that would establish her as an honored poet and a powerful voice around the world for civil rights and equality.

Though early in her career Giovanni was sometimes called the “Princess of Black Poetry,” her work has reached far beyond the African American community. Her autobiography, Gemini, was nominated for the National Book Award and her books have reached the top ranks of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times Best Seller lists.  She recently published a children’s book on the friendship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

The recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees, Giovanni is now University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

“What could be more exciting than this gathering of unparalleled American talent to celebrate America’s greatest president?” asks Eileen Mackevich, executive director of The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

She adds that “Abraham Lincoln loved music and he loved poetry – he even tried to write his own poetry! And it’s truly wonderful that Lincoln’s values, his common humanity and his commitment to the inherent dignity of all people are so beautifully expressed today by our Bicentennial guest artists, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou and Michael Feinstein.”


WHAT: Lincoln Bicentennial wreath-laying ceremony and celebratory breakfast                                                                         

WHEN: Feb. 12, 2009, 8 a.m.

WHERE: Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

CONTACT: David Early, dear@loc.gov; 202-707-6998