Religious Figures, Kennedy, Oprah Nab Hot Inauguration Seats

A diverse group warmed the front row seats.

ByABC News
January 20, 2009, 11:16 AM

Jan. 20, 2009— -- It was a politically star-studded event.

From friends to dignitaries to former rivals, an array of political stars dotted the coveted front-row seats at Barack Obama's inauguration.

Being invited by the president-to-be and his family is no small honor, and it is also important for the future first family to selectively choose the group who will occupy the front-row seats.

"The simple fact that they give a ticket to one person and not others ... becomes tremendously important," said Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "You are setting up a historic tableau. ... Each one of them [the guests] is carrying a different part of the narrative, not just your personal narrative but being weaved into the political narrative of United States history."

Minus the Secret Service guarding the Obamas, it was mostly a family event in the reviewing stand from where the first family watched the parade roll down Pennsylvania Avenue. Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson and his family joined the Obamas; as well as Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's half sister, and her family; Auma Obama, the president's other half sister; Said Obama, the brother of the president's deceased Kenyan father, and his wife Akinye Obama. The Bidens also occupied the front row with their own family and friends.

Other digintaries in the forefront included Bill and Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Obamas' friend and staff member Valerie Jarrett.

Nominees for the Cabinet, members of Martin Luther King's family and senators also sat in the bulletproof reviewing stand.

Watching President Obama's swearing in up and close and personal were the usual suspects -- former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George Bush and George W. Bush. Obama's entourage was also present, including economic adviser Larry Summers, retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, White House adviser Valerie Summers and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, along with other Obama team members.

But among those who stood out, Caroline Kennedy -- a contender for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat -- was seen watching the inaugural action from the front, and was at one point seen greeting Oprah Winfrey, who was present, of course.

A wide array of religious figures also added to the atmosphere and complemented Obama's speech in which he proclaimed that "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers." Among the religious dignitaries were Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America.

One celebrity guest in the front row invited by the Obama team stood out especially on the list -- Muhammad Ali, the three-time World Heavyweight Champion, who has Parkinson's disease, made his way slowly to the VIP seating area with his entourage. Ali celebrated his birthday Tuesday by paying tribute to the president at an inaugural event Monday night.