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Obama Sings Blues at White House Event With Jagger, B.B. King

Barack Obama B.B. King
President Barack Obama with musician B.B. King near the White House. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama sang the blues at the White House, with some prompting, as some of the genre’s best known musicians gathered for a concert last night to mark Black History Month.

Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck were among the artists taking the stage for the eighth installment of the “In Performance at the White House” concert series. King sang “The Thrill Is Gone” and Jagger offered “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” among the selections in a 15-song set.

Obama said the blues had its roots in slavery and segregation and the indignities faced in the past by black Americans. The genre “refused to be limited” and spread from the South to Chicago and around the world to lay the foundation for rock and roll, hip-hop and R&B, he said.

The blues has a universal appeal because “no one goes through life without both joy and pain, triumph and sorrow,” the president said.

“The blues reminds us that we’ve been through tougher times before,” he said. “When we find ourselves at a crossroads, we don’t shy away from our problems. We own them. We face up to them. We deal with them. We sing about them.”

Obama plans to speak today at the construction site for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, to open in 2015.

Break From Rehearsals

The day before the performance, Obama met with the musicians and their families, talking music, not politics, said two of the musicians, Keb Mo and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. They spoke with reporters during a break yesterday from rehearsals at the White House.

Jagger told fans in a message on Feb. 20 on the social networking site Twitter that Obama “seemed really relaxed and happy.”

Buddy Guy goaded Obama into singing a few words from “Sweet Home Chicago,” a reference to the president’s hometown, as the ensemble finished the last song. “I heard you singing Al Green,” Guy teased the president. “You done started something.”

Obama, in the audience, at first demurred, then took the microphone to the crowd’s delight. The president had previously displayed his singing prowess by crooning a line from Green’s 1971 hit “Let’s Stay Together” at a Jan. 19 fundraiser.

Keb Mo joked earlier in the day that Obama would one day release a record to be called, “Now I Can Finally Get My Groove On.”

Important Tradition

The performer said that, while blues music is important as a tradition for African Americans and Guy and King are “elder statesmen” who paved the way for others, white British musicians such as Jagger and Beck did as much as anyone to make the music popular with people of all races and nationalities.

First lady Michelle Obama, at a blues music clinic for students at the White House, said the blues is “as deeply American -- and as deeply human -- as just about any form of music that we’ve got in this country” that “stirs our souls and it helps us rise above all our struggles.

“And that’s why this music series is so deeply rooted in the American experience,” she said. “That’s why it has traveled from the Deep South into every part of the country and just about every form of music that we hear today.”

Susan Tedeschi, Shemekia Copeland, Gary Clark Jr., Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes also were featured.

“At the Crossroads: A History of the Blues in America” was streamed on the White House website last night and will be broadcast on PBS stations on Feb. 27 at 9 p.m., according to a statement from the White House.

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