WASHINGTON – Crediting civil rights-era protest songs and their spiritual predecessors for his election, President Barack Obama on Tuesday sat in the East Room of his White House and listened to an all-star lineup of performers pay tribute to the music that he said fueled freedom marches and civil disobedience.
The nation’s first black president transformed the grand ballroom into a concert hall packed with members of his Cabinet, Congress, civil rights leaders and students for a program that will air on public television later this week for Black History Month.
Queen Latifah’s rendition of the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Going On” and Yolanda Adams’ spirited rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” were early highlights of a night that continued the Obamas’ effort to open the White House to America’s soundtrack.
“The civil rights movement was a movement sustained by music,” Obama said as he welcomed his audience.
He said activists from coast to coast were inspired by spirituals, felt their will sharpened by protest songs and base broadened by artists of hope. He said their work paved the way toward a more just America that allowed him to make history in 2008 with his election.
“Tonight, we celebrate the music of the movement,” Obama said.
Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were on the schedule of performers, along with Natalie Cole, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, John Mellencamp, Seal and the Blind Boys of Alabama.
The Howard University Choir and The Freedom Singers performed at a mansion that in its history was maintained by slaves.
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