Janet Reno: Prosecutor to Record Producer

Former Attorney General Janet Reno's somewhat surprising interest in music is well documented, but perhaps most surprising is her recent turn from tough prosecutor to record producer.

"Saturday Night Live" fans will remember Will Ferrell's turn impersonating the former top law official in the sketch "Janet Reno's Dance Party," in which Reno once made an appearance.

She also enjoys karaoke and has been known to belt out Aretha Franklin hits in front of a crowd.

But Reno's interest in music runs far deeper than one might think. She is the driving force behind a newly released collection of 50 songs from America's history called "Song of America," and it features a slew of top artists from John Cougar Mellencamp to the Five Blind Boys from Alabama.

Reno says people have told her they're surprised by her new career as a music producer, but she said, "I'm not an expert on music but what impresses me is people who are expert[s] on music are telling me that they [the musicians] did an extraordinary job, that it's a great record," Reno told "Good Morning America."

The idea was born 9 years ago when Reno was still serving as attorney general in the Clinton administration.

Her niece's husband Ed Pettersen, a veteran musician, song writer and producer, was playing a song about history at Reno's Washington, D.C., home.

"She looked up when I was done and she went, 'Ya know, you should write a whole history of America in song and ya know, tell the whole story from the beginning to end,'" Pettersen said.

"My mind started going and I thought if we could get modern artists to re-record the songs, then we could give all the money to charity."

Reno, it turns out, was Pettersen's secret weapon.

"A lot of artists joined in because of Aunt Janet," he said. "She played a much more important role than she is letting on."

One of those artists is country star Suzy Bogguss.

"She needs to come over and we need to jam! I'm a nice tall girl like her. We could do some serious jamming around here," Bogguss said of Reno.

For Bogguss the album was a stroll down memory lane.

"I had to say, I had a real special connection to my song, which was 'Rosie the Riveter,' being that my mom actually was Rosie the Riveter," Bogguss said. "She worked at the Rock Island, Ill., Arsenal when World War II was going on."

"I think I did think about my mom, because she was always singing that kind of song around the house when I was a kid."

The CD collection has its share of American classics, like "Home on the Range," the "Star Spangled Banner" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." But it also includes a version of the Marvin Gaye soul classic "What's Going On."

Some of the songs are performed traditionally. Other artists provide a contemporary flavor. Jake Shimabukuro took "Stars and Stripes," which is normally played in six minutes, and turned it into an exhilarating 2½ minutes on the ukulele.

The songs, from different eras of American history, are often about struggle. One song, entitled "Deportee," is about immigration.

"America is, has a history of protest of struggle, of dividing itself and coming back together," Reno said.

She says she hopes to share the CDs with teachers around the country as a tool to spark renewed interest in history by today's students.

"I think that they would find the interest if they spent time with it. And if they had something that attracted their attention to the particular era," she said. "Here, we have the hook that can grab their interest — one song from fifty."