Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

White House civil-rights concert moved up to Tuesday by snowstorms

February 9, 2010 | 12:06 pm

Among the myriad other disruptions that massive snowstorms are causing on the East Coast, a Black History Month concert at the White House delineating the role music played in the civil-rights movement has been hastily bumped up a day, to Tuesday. It originally was scheduled for Wednesday.

“They’re expecting another 20 inches of snow, and the federal government probably will be shut down tomorrow,” the Grammy Museum's executive director, Robert Santelli, said Tuesday morning from Washington, D.C., where he was caught up fast-forwarding plans both for the concert with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Smokey Robinson, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson and numerous others, as well as an educational program that First Lady Michelle Obama was hosting for about 100 high school students from around the country.

“If we didn’t do it today, it probably would have been canceled,” said Santelli. A planned broadcast of the  concert Thursday on PBS stations is still in place, he said, as well as a live stream of the educational program for the benefit of students around the country starting at noon Pacific time. The telecast is being handled by veteran Grammy Awards show producer Ken Ehrlich, and the concert also will be streamed live Tuesday night on PBS' website.

Because of the schedule change, Santelli said a portion of the program will be recorded and made available at a future date for those who weren’t able to watch it live.

Nearly all the performers, who also include John Mellencamp, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Natalie Cole and Yolanda Adams, were already in the nation’s capital for what was to have been a day of rehearsals. “Now, the rehearsals will be dress rehearsals,” Santelli said. “We’re having to ask them to do some things in record time. This will make for more fun and excitement.”

That goes for the visiting students as well. Originally, high-schoolers from Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and other cities were to visit with Mrs. Obama and Freedom Singers founding member Bernice Johnson Reagon for about an hour as she and some of the musicians discussed how music helped motivate social change half a century ago.

Santelli said upon arriving in Washington, they were also invited to attend the all-star concert, on which Robinson has been working closely with Santelli in assembling the talent.

The idea sprouted last summer, when representatives from Washington's PBS affiliate, WETA-TV, contacted Santelli about the Grammy Museum's inaugural exhibition, “Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom,” an exploration of the intersection of music and politics over 200 years of U.S. history.

Lining up participants for a civil-rights program as part of WETA's series "In Performance at the White House" was primarily a matter of deciding whom to invite.

“Everybody that we asked, including Dylan, said yes, and for those few who could not come, it was impossible for them to do because of scheduling conflicts,” Santelli said. “This is a pretty historic event, not just because it’s at the White House, but because it’s celebrating civil-rights music at the White House, which is a great American music form. With Black History Month and an African American president, it all adds up to something very exciting.”

-- Randy Lewis