Obamas Spotlight American Music at White House

PHOTO: Entertainment at The White House

In their first six months in Washington, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have brought a little bit of country and a little bit of rock and roll to the White House.

Last night in the East Room, the Obamas celebrated the storytelling and history of country music, which the president called a "uniquely American art form."

The event, which included a lineup of top artists, is the second in a series of musical performances at the White House launched by the first lady as a way to encourage arts and arts education.

The Obamas hosted a similar event last month highlighting jazz, and it will showcase classical music in the fall.

Obama admitted at the start of the evening that, as a "city boy," he may not fit the mold for a country music fan.

"But I do appreciate listening to country music, because like all Americans, I appreciate the broad and indelible impact that country has had on our nation," the president said.

The White House Music Series is part of the continued effort by the Obamas to open up the White House to artists, students, and diverse voices.

Country Music Hall of Famer Charley Pride and chart-toppers Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss and Union Station performed for the Obamas and their guests, which included White House staff such as country music-loving and cowboy boots-wearing budget director Peter Orszag, and members of Congress.

On Tuesday afternoon, Paisley and Krauss participated in a music education workshop at the White House for nearly 100 middle and high school students. The students came from schools from all across the country, chosen because of their dedication to educating children in their communities through music, the first lady's office said.

Paisley, reigning Country Music Association male vocalist of the year, and Krauss, a fiddle player and singer who has won 26 Grammy Awards, the most of any female performer in any genre, performed a few songs and told the aspiring musicians in the audience to persevere in their music.

President, First Lady Aim to Celebrate American Art

Both the president and first lady have expressed their interest in highlighting the importance of the arts in American life and history.

Last month they held a day of jazz at the White House, featuring one of that genre's first families, the Marsalis brothers.

Michele Obama said the event, like the country music performance, featured a workshop for promising jazz music students, exemplifying her view of the White House as "the People's House."

"This is a place to honor America's past, celebrate its present and create its future. And that's why all of you are here today. It's about you, the future," she said. "And what better example of this than jazz, America's indigenous art form."

Michelle Obama talked about the role jazz played in her own upbringing. "At Christmas, birthdays, Easter, it didn't matter, there was jazz playing in our household," she said.

The first lady's office said the trio of events was meant to celebrate American music, and at the same time demonstrate the importance of arts education for students.

The first lady even indicated that the music appreciation lessons would apply in her own household.

"I brought my own family with me today, because I want to keep them alive and aware of all kinds of music other than hip-hop," she said at last month's jazz event.

Anita McBride, former chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, said country and jazz music are "classic American" genres and the Obamas are making a statement about the United States as a culturally rich nation.

"It's so uniquely American and at the White House you do want to showcase America's talent, musical talent and artistic talent," said McBride.

McBride, who played a role in conceiving and executing events like celebrations marking the birthdays of William Shakespeare in 2005 or Teddy Roosevelt in 2008, said that while the events are tricky to pull together, it is not hard to get eager participants.

"The White House is one place where every artist you ask to come perform there is happy to come perform and say they have performed at the White House," she said.

As a result the Obamas have invited a wide range of artists, from singer Stevie Wonder to the band Earth Wind and Fire, even Fergie of the Black Eyes Peas, to drop by for a presidential performance.

Wonder's invitation was inevitable. His classic tune "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" was a staple at Obama's campaign stops, and the president credited Wonder with playing a key role in his marriage to Michelle.

"I think it's fair to say that had I not been a Stevie Wonder fan, Michelle might not have dated me. We might not have married. The fact that we agreed on Stevie was part of the essence of our courtship," Obama said at a White House ceremony in February when he presented the singer with the 2nd annual Gershwin Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Library of Congress.

Obamas Showcase History of the U.S., White House

Hosting social events at the White House is certainly not a new concept. Though the Bushes may have had a reputation as being homebodies, they frequently entertained for friends and guests, as did the Clintons and other first families before them.

But the Obamas have made a point of highlighting their desire to throw open the doors on the White House's North Portico, have some fun and at the same time celebrate the history of the country and the famous residence.

"All of the events at the White House, particularly the social events, are meant to be a reflection of the styles and the taste of the president and the first lady," said McBride.

In May, the Obamas hosted what is thought to be the first poetry slam session at the White House, an evening dedicated to the art of the spoken word, featuring poets and actors doing dramatic readings.

"Let me tell you, I have wanted to do this from day one -- the notion of standing in this room and hearing some poetry and spoken word," the first lady said at the event.

In March, Michelle Obama celebrated women's history month with a gathering of what the White House billed were "women of excellence," including musicians Alicia Keyes and Sheryl Crow, actress Phylicia Rashad and basketball star Lisa Leslie Lockwood.

"As I started thinking about the kinds of things that I wanted to see happen, this day was one of those things -- gathering an amazing group of women together, and going out, and talking to young girls around this country," the first lady said at the White House.

Last month, the president teamed with Dwyane Wade of the NBA's Miami Heat, Antwan Randel El of the NFL's Washington Redskins, and pro skateboarder Tony Hawk among others to promote fatherhood with events across Washington, D.C., with young men and a barbecue at the White House.

ABC News' Jon Garcia contributed to this report.

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