It’s not the first presidential presence at the CMT awards. During the 2008 election year, the three leading candidates -- Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain -- also delivered taped cameo appearances.
Barack Obama channel's Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together.' Mitt Romney leans on K'naan's 'Wavin' Flag.' If there's a politician, there's a song ready to blare.
Like less charismatic hip-hop artists, politicians routinely repurpose other people's songs. And like a great many rappers over the last several decades, they've often done it without permission. As we move into the summer-long showdown between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, here are five songs recently heard reverberating in the corridors of power.
K'naan, "Wavin' Flag"
Romney used this Somali Canadian rapper's 2009 hit after a Florida-primary win, leading K'naan to tweet, "Yo @mittromney I am K'naan Warsame and I do not endorse this message."
Al Green, "Let's Stay Together"
In January President Obama sang a few lines of the 1972 soul classic during a fundraiser at New York's Apollo Theater. It's also included on an official (and no doubt carefully curated) campaign playlist available on Spotify.
Survivor, "Eye of the Tiger"
The early '80s rockers went as far as suing Newt Gingrich to stop the Republican hopeful from using "Eye of the Tiger," best known for its appearance in Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky III."
Toby Keith, "American Ride"
Texas governor Rick Perry regularly used Toby Keith's 2009 country hit at his campaign events, indicating Perry's Southern roots and his freewheeling iconoclasm.
First Love, "Game On!"
Though not perhaps an official Rick Santorum selection, this effervescent pop-country ditty earned the former Pennsylvania senator's approval on Twitter. And why not? "He's got the plan," the sisters of First Love sing, "to lower taxes, raise morale and put the power in our hands."
In “This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie and the Journey of an American Folksong” (Running Press, $24), author and Grammy Museum Executive Director Robert Santelli traces the extraordinary life of what is arguably America’s best-known and best-loved folk song, written by America’s greatest folk troubadour.
It’s long been known that Woody Guthrie wrote the song in 1940 as his reaction to -- and dissatisfaction with -- Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America, which became ubiquitous throughout the Depression, primarily from Kate Smith’s signature recording and her countless performances on live radio broadcasts.
Among the many examples of cultural detective work in Santelli's book -- published in conjunction with this year's Woody Guthrie centennial -- Santelli traces a journey that culminates in the song being sung by Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen at a 2009 inauguration concert for President Obama. Along the way, he also answers the question: How exactly how did “This Land Is Your Land” become part of the elementary school standard repertoire, where virtually every kid in the United States can sing it -- or at least, the best-known parts of it -- by the time they’re 7?
It partly can be traced to the inclusion of “This Land Is Your Land” on a 1951 album of children’s songs called “Songs to Grow On,” the third volume in a series of children’s music released by producer Moses Asch on his new Folkways record label.
Asch, who had made records with Seeger and Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter and other folk and blues artists in New York City in the '40s, first met and recorded with Guthrie in 1944. He was so bowled over by the quality of Guthrie’s songs, which had not been captured extensively in recordings before that, that he got Guthrie to lay down dozens of tracks, including “God Blessed America,” the song that eventually would come to be known as “This Land Is Your Land.”
But it wasn’t an immediate breakout hit, just one among the slew of songs Guthrie recorded for Asch. Seeger also loved the song’s sing-along and routinely included it when he performed in schools and at summer camps in New York and elsewhere around the Northeast.
The genius stroke, however, came with Guthrie’s introduction to music publisher Howie Richmond. Even into the '50s, Guthrie may have established a body of work as impressive as that of any songwriter in history, but he had no publisher to represent and promote his songs. “Either because of his unconventional ways or his political stance, he was turned down wherever he went,” Santelli writes.
Folklorist Alan Lomax, who with his father, John, made field recordings for the Library of Congress documenting the nation’s folk and blues traditions, met with Richmond to float the idea of extending the reach of such songs beyond the walls of the Library of Congress. Perhaps, Lomax suggested, there was a way to educate the country’s youth to their musical heritage by including some of them in elementary school textbooks.
Richmond took the idea and ran with it, lobbying textbook publishers to include words and music to some of the songs from the Lomax collection; as an incentive, he reduced the normal licensing fees and threw in “This Land Is Your Land” as an added bonus -- he would charge only $1 to include it.
“I really believed that ‘This Land’ -- a truly great song about America, its natural wealth and beauty -- was something that kids sitting in classrooms ought to know and learn to sing,” Richmond told Santelli. “Plus, it was a great song for entire classes to sing. It had a great melody, great chorus, and those lyrics, well, they were so beautiful. I didn’t mind practically giving it away.”
The gambit worked and “This Land” quickly began landing on the desks of American schoolchildren with their next round of new books and incorporated into classroom music time.
The published version, however, omitted two verses that made “This Land” more than a celebration of America’s natural resources, but also a pointed political protest song in which Guthrie spoke on behalf of the millions he’d seen left by the wayside of the American dream during the Great Depression.
In addition to his poetic imagery about the nation’s endless skyway, golden valley, redwood forests, gulf stream waters, sparkling sands and diamond deserts, Guthrie also made a point to note:
As I was walkin’, I saw a sign there And that sign said ‘No trespassin’ But on the other side, it didn’t say nothin’ Now that side was made for you and me
Another often-overlooked verse says:
In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple Near the relief office, I saw my people And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’ 'If this land’s still made for you and me?’
(To head the folk purists off at the pass: Numerous variations on these lyrics have been chronicled over the decades, even as written down by Guthrie himself. The verses here are taken from Santelli's book, where they are rendered as "Original Lyrics.")
Half a century later, when Springsteen called Seeger to invite him to sing “This Land Is Your Land” with him at a concert celebrating Obama’s inauguration, “I told him I would, but only if he agreed to sing the song with its original lyrics,” Seeger told Santelli, himself a longtime Guthrie aficionado who had organized a tribute to him in 1996 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland to launch the hall’s “American Masters” series of tribute performances.
“All these years I sang ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ but never with so many people watching and listening,” Seeger said. “Washington, D.C., filled with people. Television cameras were everywhere. I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass by. I wanted to make absolutely certain that the world knew the lyrics that Woody originally wrote.”
Springsteen needed no coaching -- he’d been singing the song, including the usually missing verses, since the 1980s.
“We’d like you to join us in perhaps the greatest song ever written about our home,” Springsteen said to the massive audience by way of introduction.
No Teleprompters were needed that day. Nearly everyone there in Washington, D.C., and watching at home on television had long ago learned it in grade school.
Playing the White House? Whatevs, according to Mick Jagger.
OK, so that wasn't his exact quote, but that was the gist. In an interview with the Washington Post a couple days after honoring the American blues at the Obama abode, the king of the stage strut replied, when asked if he was nervous beforehand, "I don’t want to sound blasé ... but every gig is a gig, right?"
This is probably a reasonable reply, if huffing and puffing in the East Room is just simply the 1,975,499th performance of your career. But might this be a sign that the Rolling Stones should forgo their next tour in favor of, well, doing something that actually makes one of them feel something again? Even if that just means, you know, holding a newborn baby or something? Just a thought.
Jagger, absent Keith Richards or any of his other band mates, performed alongside B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and others on Tuesday. In an inspired move, he passed the microphone to President Obama so that he could croon a few lines of “Sweet Home Chicago.” Obama's been showing off his ample tenor lately, as you know. There aren't many A&R agents left in this rough-and-tumble music world, but somebody should discover this guy.
By the way, we're only teasing Jagger about his Kanye shrug toward playing for the president. Later in the interview, he says, like a good British lad, "I’m very honored to have played the White House."
But he didn't have such nice words for "Moves Like Jagger," the ubiquitous Maroon 5 hit that pays homage to his slither. "It’s a very long-lived song, isn’t it?" Jagger said. "That and Adele. Still playing. I get into the car, and there it is, still. And then I go to the club and there it is..."
George W. Bush: Obama’s predecessor was famous for playing his iPod. After his personal playlist -- which had been selected by his personal aide, Blake Gottesman -- went public in 2005, it revealed Bush’s predilection for the music of George Jones, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and the Knack. “No one should psychoanalyze the song selection,” Bush advisor Mark McKinnon said at the time, because he said the president mostly plugged into what was dubbed “iPod One” riding his bike around his Texas ranch. “It’s music to get over the next hill.”
Bill Clinton: Clinton picked up the tenor sax he’d played through high school and college on a number of occasions during his two terms in office, and as a candidate in 1992 on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” where he riffs on the Billie Holiday classic “God Bless the Child.”
Richard Nixon: Nixon visited the Grand Ole Opry for the dedication ceremony after the long-running live and radio show moved from its venerated home at the Ryman Auditorium to a new facility at the Opryland USA theme park. He took a seat at a piano and played “Happy Birthday” for his wife, Pat Nixon, then played “My Wild Irish Rose” to acknowledge her Irish heritage, and closed the program by playing “God Bless America.”
In that ceremony, Nixon cited his appreciation for country music by noting that the White House during his administration had hosted performances by Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Roy Acuff and Glen Campbell, among others. “Country music,” Nixon said, “has those combinations which are so essential to America's character at a time that America needs character, because today -- one serious note, let me tell you -- the peace of the world for generations, maybe centuries to come, will depend not just on America’s military might, which is the greatest in the world, or our wealth, which is the greatest in the world, but it is going to depend on our character, our belief in ourselves, our love of our country, our willingness to not only wear the flag but to stand up for the flag. And country music does that.”
As president, Nixon once accompanied singer Pearl Bailey when she sang in the East Room of the White House. Nixon also played the accordion.
Nixon was no longer vice president and not yet president when played he played a composition of his own on “The Jack Paar Show” during John F. Kennedy’s administration. To accompany Nixon on the show, Paar surprised him with an orchestra made up of “about 15 Democratic violinists.”
Harry S. Truman: “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse,” Truman famously said, “or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.” Truman often said that if he had learned to be proficient pianist, he never would have become president.
After playing for a group of Methodist women at a county fair in his home state of Missouri, he told them, “When I played this, Stalin signed the Potsdam Agreement.”
Truman also wrote a celebrated response to Washington Post music critic Paul Hume’s assessment of a singing performance by his daughter, Margaret, in 1950, in which Hume wrote “Miss Truman cannot sing very well.”
The president blasted back: “I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an ‘eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay.’
“It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for, it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work.
“Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”
Warren G. Harding: The 29th president may well be the only chief executive who played the sousaphone. At the time Harding took office in 1921, it was still a relatively new arrival in the music world, having been created in the late 1890s on orders of the country’s great bandleader and composer of marching band music, John Philip Sousa. He wanted a tuba that would be easier to carry than existing models while retaining the concert tuba’s full rich tone. It’s unclear whether Harding ever oompahed in the Oval Office.
Chester A. Arthur: Arthur reportedly played the banjo, which at the time represented both a political and cultural statement. The instrument originated in Africa and was often featured in minstrel performances of the 19th century, but was commonly disparaged in “serious" music circles. When a sitting president played the banjo, it lent credence to musicians who were campaigning to get the banjo greater respect.
Ulysses S. Grant: Grant was known more for his drinking than his harmonizing, and once said that he knew only two songs: “One is ‘Yankee Doodle,’ and the other isn’t.”
Thomas Jefferson: The primary author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the creators of the Constitution of the United States was an avid violinist who played chamber music while studying at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Music, he said, was “an enjoyment, the deprivation of which cannot be calculated.”
Jefferson left behind an extensive music library of books and sheet music by Haydn, Handel, J.C. Bach, Corelli, Purcell and many others. It is housed at the University of Virginia.
“Music is invaluable where a person has an ear,” Jefferson wrote late in life. “It furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life.”
B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy and Booker T. Jones are among a dozen musicians who wlll be on Capitol Hill tonight singing and playing the blues in the latest “In Performance at the White House” concert series.
Also along for the “Red, White and Blues” event, which will be hosted by President and First Lady Michelle Obama in the East Room of the White House, will be Trombone Shorty, Keb' Mo', Shemekia Copeland, Warren Haynes, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and Gary Clark Jr. The performance will result in a one-hour PBS special scheduled to air Monday at 9 p.m.
The show is the culmination of a daylong program today at the White House exploring the genre that also includes an educational session for several dozen high school students from around the country. Keb' Mo', Copeland and Trombone Shorty, along with Michelle Obama, will explore the blues with the students and with Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, which has organized the program.
On Thursday night while the Republican hopefuls were duking it out in South Carolina, President Obama let loose a line from Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" during a fundraiser at the Apollo Theater in New York City. "I-I-I-I'm so in love with you," he crooned in falsetto, much to the audience's delight.
Quick critical appraisal: Two and a half stars out of four. Barry, you were a little timid but perfectly in tune. Not bad -- but maybe don't quit your day job (if you get a choice)!
The president sang the song while the legend himself, the Rev. Al Green, was in the crowd. "Don't worry, Rev. I cannot sing like you," he joked. "I just wanted to show my appreciation." The soul singer was one of two opening acts for the president at the $200-a-seat fundraiser, one of many around the Big Apple on Thursday, including a swanky fete at Spike Lee's house where the filmmaker and the president bonded over their love for the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Mariah Carey was one of the luminaries who dropped $35,800 on the ticket.
But back to that performance. Let's allow ourselves some hope for a minute: If President Obama isn't reelected on Nov. 6, perhaps he'll release an album of covers instead? After all, it is a Tuesday, the same day new music is released. Can we humbly suggest covering Etta James' "At Last"?
Time will only tell what will happen, but we've gotten word on what will show next week at the Apollo: Newt Gingrich sings the tunes of Neil Diamond.
Lady Gaga has made good on her promise to voice her concerns about teen bullying to President Obama -- no matter the cost. The singer dropped the $35,800-a-person fee to attend an exclusive Obama fund-raising event in Silicon Valley on Sunday.
Wearing a black floor-length dress and her signature sky-high heels, Gaga stood at least two feet taller than Obama and the 70-plus guests at the event. ABC News reported that during a Q&A session, the artist made reference to Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old who recently committed suicide after incessant bullying because he was gay. She also read a letter from a fan about another bullying victim. She then thanked the president for what he’s accomplished in office so far.
Composer and artist David Barratt just wanted to inject a little ukulele into the Beatles catalog. And for nearly the past two years he’s been doing so — one track at a time.
For his weekly “Beatles Complete On Ukulele” series, Barratt has been tackling all of the original Beatles recordings (185 of them, in case you forgot) and pairing them with different artists and his beloved ukulele.
The idea for the project came to Barrett and music producer Roger Greenawalt after they organized a marathon benefit concert where all the Beatles' songs were performed over 24 hours. The money ("hundreds of dollars in a brown paper bag," he clarifies) was donated to Warren Buffett — the philanthropist billionaire who is the third-wealthiest person in the world according to Forbes — after he sustained a bit of a dent in his finances because of the economic crisis.
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.