From Sunlen Miller
“Thank you for braving the storm,” President Obama said, opening up the fifth music series at the White House tonight. The event had been rescheduled, bumped up one day early as the second massive snow storm in less than a week heads towards Washington, D.C.
During Black History month, the spotlight tonight was on music from the Civil Rights movement, an ode to the “soundtrack of a movement,” that in many ways, Mr. Obama said, paved the way for him.
“The civil rights movement was a movement sustained by music. It was lifted by spirituals inspired by the Bible. It was sharpened by protest songs about wrongs that needed right,” the president said from the East Room-turned-concert hall this evening.
The music, the president said, captured the hardship and hope in ways that only song can do.
“It is easy to sing when you are happy. It is easy to sing when you’re among friends. It’s easy to sing when times are good," he said. "But it is hard to sing when times are rough. It is hard to sing in the face of talks and fear and the constant threat of violence. It’s hard to sing when folks are being beaten … when churches are being bombed. It’s hard to sing during times like that. But times like that are precisely when the power of song is most potent. Above the din of hatred, amidst the deafening silence of inaction, the hymns of the civil rights movement helped carry the cause of people and advance the ideas of a nation.”
The President said Martin Luther King and his associates would find communities that were organized and mobilized enough by looking for people who sang freedom songs, and helped “advance the cause of a nation.”
The first family, along with invited guests from the African-American community, members of Congress and members of administration, listened to the concert, which was hosted by actor Morgan Freeman, with performances by Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan, Yolanda Adams and Natalie Cole.
“Let us enjoy the music. Let the music feed our spirits,” the president said.
Mr. Obama and the First Family got on stage at the end of the concert with the other performers and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” – often referred to as “The African-American National Anthem.” The president said that this was first publically performed as a poem as part of President Lincoln’s birthday. Friday will be Lincoln’s birthday.
At first the president could be heard singing for a few words into his microphone but quickly backed off the microphone and let the singers to his right and left – Jennifer Hudson and Smokey Robinson – carry most of the harmony after that.
The full concert will be broadcast on Feb. 11 on PBS.
– Sunlen Miller