After an Inauguration Day full of pomp, speeches and parades, the president and first lady joined thousands of supporters and special guests in black ties and an array of sparkling gowns for an elegant evening of dancing and star-studded entertainment at the Washington Convention Center.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee hosted just two official inaugural balls this year — both at the Convention Center — compared to the 10 official balls in 2009.
At the Commander-in-Chief Ball, President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden honored an estimated 4,000 members of the armed forces, including Medal of Honor recipients and their families, as well as wounded warriors and their spouses. Tickets for the military ball, a tradition President George W. Bush began in 2005, were free for those invited.
An estimated 35,000 more people gathered at the main event of the night — the official Inaugural Ball. Early in January, Ticketmaster accidentally put the tickets — selling for $60 apiece — on sale a day early and all were snapped up.
Just before 9 p.m., the first couple arrived and the president addressed the military ball, thanking the service members and their families for their sacrifices over the past decade. He also announced that several members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots who fought in World War II, were in attendance.
"Today we experienced the majesty of our democracy — a ritual only possible in the form of government that is of and by the people, a day made possible because there are patriots like each and every one of you that made our freedom possible," he said. "This little party is something we can never say enough — thank you."
He then spoke via video teleconference to several service members deployed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, who congratulated him on his re-election and swearing-in.
Gesturing offstage, Mr. Obama introduced Mrs. Obama, saying "she inspired me every day — she makes me a better man and a better president."
The first lady joined him on stage, wearing a ruby-red halter dress with a chiffon and velvet overlay designed by Jason Wu, the same designer she chose for the first inauguration when she wore a bold, off-the-shoulder white dress.
Grammy-winning former American Idol Jennifer Hudson sang a medley of songs, starting with Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," and the first couple danced on stage, before changing partners with some of the service members at the ball.
Though there were only two balls, there were no indications planners had otherwise scaled back. The lineup of glitzy entertainers offered a little something for every age group and musical taste — Brad Paisley, Katy Perry, Jamie Foxx, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, Marc Anthony, John Legend, Soundgarden, Usher and Alicia Keys, who rewrote the lyrics to her hit "Girl on Fire" for the occasion.
Members of the cast of "Glee," the indie rock band Fun, hip-hop duo Black Violin and Asian-American hip-hop artists Far East Movement were also slated to perform.
Democratic insiders were anticipating an even bigger diva at perhaps the most exclusive inaugural gala. Lady Gaga is expected to perform at Tuesday's ball for White House staffers, which is a private affair at the Convention Center.
Despite the smaller number of balls, a similar number attended this year as in 2009, when there were six balls held throughout the convention center, according to inauguration planners.
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Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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