Obama cel­e­brates gospel songs as ‘songs of hope’


Kick­ing off a foot-stomp­ing, hand­clap­ping cel­e­bra­tion of gospel mu­sic, U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said Tues­day that this par­tic­u­lar genre of mu­sic had helped to shape Amer­ica, be­gin­ning with the slave era and con­tin­u­ing on through the civil rights move­ment and be­yond.

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.

Gospel songs are the “songs of hope,” Obama added. “Hope that we might rise above our fail­ures and dis­ap­point­ments. Hope that we might re­ceive His re­demp­tion. Hope that, in lift­ing our voices to­gether, we, too, might one day reach the Promised Land.”

The nor­mally staid White House East Room was trans­formed into a con­cert venue through the ad­di­tion of red and pur­ple light­ing, a stage, pi­ano, band mem­bers and backup singers. Af­ter brief open­ing re­marks, Obama sat in the front row be­tween his wife, Michelle, and Loretta Lynch, the fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor he nom­i­nated last year to be the coun­try’s first fe­male at­tor­ney gen­eral. Lynch’s con­fir­ma­tion vote by the full Se­nate has been de­layed for months.

“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. Shirley Cae­sar, Lyle Lovett and Dar­lene Love were among the other top record­ing artists who brought au­di­ence mem­bers to their feet.

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.”

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.

Ear­lier Tues­day, Michelle Obama said gospel mu­sic is a “ray of hope” that fu­eled her love of mu­sic in gen­eral.

“It’s what helps connect us to God, to that higher power,” the first lady said at a White House-ar­ranged gospel mu­sic work­shop for stu­dents from around the coun­try. “And for so many, when times are dark and when you’re strug­gling, gospel mu­sic is that ray of hope and it gives you that strength.”

She re­called be­ing ex­posed to gospel at an early age through rel­a­tives, in­clud­ing her mother, Mar­ian, who sang in a church choir.

“There’s noth­ing like hear­ing a choir sing an old gospel clas­sic,” Mrs. Obama said. “When you hear that mu­sic, it gets your feet tap­ping and your heart pump­ing.”


Pres­i­dent Barack Obama speaks to the au­di­ence as he takes his seat in the East Room of the White House, in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. on Tues­day, April 14, for a gospel mu­sic con­cert as part of the lat­est in the “In Per­for­mance at the White House” con­cert se­ries.

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