President Barack Obama paid tribute to gospel music at a special White House concert, saying it had helped to shape America.
“I’ve got to say, you’re having a pretty good night when T Bone Burnett and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, show up at your house to jam,” Obama said. Lyle Lovett, Rhiannon Giddens, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Shirley Caesar, Tamela Mann, Michelle Williams, Darlene Love and the Morgan State University Choir were the musicians who brought audience members to their feet. T Bone Burnett was executive music director and Billy Maxwell was music director.
But “the heart” of gospel still remains true, although it has evolved over time, Obama said.
“It still has an unmatched power to strike the deepest chord in all of us, touching people of all faiths and of no faith,” he said as he opened the latest in a series of White House concerts, this one celebrating the role of gospel music in American life.
US gospel singer Shirley Caesar sings with the Morgan State University Choir at the event
Obama said gospel is rooted in the spirituals that were sung by slaves who, although forbidden to read or write, were allowed to sing.
“Songs were where their dreams took flight, where they expressed faith and love, as well as pain and fear and unimaginable loss,” he said. “They sang songs of liberation, if not for their bodies in this world, then for their souls in the next.”
Earlier in the day Michelle Obama spoke at a White House workshop for students on the history of gospel. On a panel with Lyle Lovett, Darlene Love, Rodney Crowell and Rhiannon Giddens at the State Dining Room, she called the spiritual genre a “ray of hope” that fueled her overall love of music.
“It’s what helps connect us to God, to that higher power,” The First Lady said. “For so many, when times have darkened, when there’s struggle, gospel music is that ray of hope and it gives you that strength.”
The concert was the latest in the “In Performance at the White House” series of broadcasts by PBS. Tuesday’s concert is scheduled to air June 26.
Michelle Obama speaks as musicians Lyle Lovett (far left), Darlene Love, Rodney Crowell and Rhiannon Giddens attend a workshop for students on The History of Gospel Music in April 2015 GETTY IMAGES