Shortly after his shock election victory, then President-elect Trump tasked Tom Barrack, his longtime friend and the chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, with reaching out to Franklin to ask if she would perform at an inaugural event and concert, according to three sources familiar with what happened. Trump had long considered the legendary singer a friend, and wanted the offer framed as an opportunity to help bring the country back together after a brutal, bruising presidential election.
However, Team Trump’s contacts in Hollywood failed to secure the Queen of Soul for the inauguration.
Though she largely refrained from publicly criticizing Trump during or after the 2016 campaign, two individuals with direct knowledge of her political opinions said she was repelled by the Republican standard-bearer, his policy prescriptions, and his rhetoric. One source close to Franklin told The Daily Beast that after the election, she confided to associates that “no amount of money” could convince her to perform at the inauguration. Another knowledgeable source described her as “despising” everything he stood for, and as an avowed Hillary Clinton supporter.
Indeed, those sources told The Daily Beast that Franklin had been in talks to join Team Hillary on the campaign trail, and even to perform a song written for Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Though she was able to perform briefly at at least one Clinton fundraiser, Franklin’s difficult logistical demands prevented her from performing at the Democratic convention, and other conflicts kept her from appearing or headlining other envisioned 2016 events.
But Franklin and her family did end up attending the 2016 Democratic National Convention, watching some of the speeches from 2016 Democratic National Convention CEO Leah Daughtry’s private box.
“We would have loved for Ms. Franklin to perform at the 2016 Convention,” Daughtry told The Daily Beast in an email. “After all, she’d performed at the 1992 Convention that nominated Bill Clinton and at both of his inaugurals. However, Ms. Franklin indicated that she simply wanted to enjoy the historic moment of Secretary Clinton’s nomination, particularly given her close and long-standing relationship with the Clintons.”
Barrack spokesman Owen Blicksilver declined comment on this story. The White House did not comment by press time.
Following news of Franklin’s death on Thursday, President Trump claimed in a statement that the diva was “a person I knew well” had “worked for me on numerous occasions.”
It is unclear what exactly the president meant by “worked for me,” but Franklin did, indeed, appear or perform at Trump events and venues.
The two were photographed together in 1997 at the grand opening of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City. Franklin gave a private concert at a nearby theater to celebrate the event.
In 1998, she performed at the Trump Castle Casino, where she reportedly allowed employees to watch her rehearse for over two hours in a 450-seat showroom. Two years later, Franklin performed at the Trump Taj Mahal & Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
But by Trump’s political ascendency, their relationship had chilled considerably, at least from her end. In December 2016, Franklin—who had performed at Barack Obama's inaugural celebration in 2009—was asked by The Hill if she would perform for Trump’s inauguration, if asked.
“That’s a good question,” she said.
“That’s a very good question,” she continued, with a big smile. “We’ll see.”
In the end, Trump’s inauguration lineup largely included lesser-known musical acts like DJ Ravidrums and mainstream artists several years past their relevance like 3 Doors Down. At one point during the transition, Anthony Scaramucci, then vice chair of the inaugural committee, claimed that “Elton John is going to be doing our concert on the Mall for inauguration.”
That was quickly shot down as fiction, with John’s publicist Fran Curtis quickly emailing The Daily Beast, “Elton will not be performing a Trump inauguration.”