Obama Sings The Blues, and Other Presidential Performances We Love
The President wears many hats.
He is the Commander-in-chief of America's military, he inspires and encourages American citizens as an upstanding Chief of State, and, as Barack Obama recently reminded us in a blues-off with Mick Jagger and B.B. King, the President must also hold the high office of American-Idol-in-chief.
Using the power of song to distract an entire nation of people from the veritable orc horde of crippling social, economic, environmental and existential crises that face humankind daily like some terrible unending nightmare is perhaps the president's greatest duty. "Gorgeous" George Washington and the Federalist Five got that. Whether singing Al Green or Lady Gaga, Barack Obama gets that. Even presidential hopeful Mitt Romney gets it—and bless his possibly robotic heart for trying.
So, in honor of the continuing presidents' day festivities, we recapped our all-time favorite moments in the long, fabulous tradition of POTUS performance. Relive history, remind us what we forgot, and free your mind with Obama singin' da blooze:
The Lincoln-Douglas Rap Battles (August 21 - October 15, 1858)
Abraham Lincoln was a master orator in all forms of the discipline, but none more so than the hater-silencing art of freestyle rap. In a series of 7 debates with Stephen A. Douglas for the title of Illinois senator and mad bragging rights, Lincoln proved to the nation that a rhyme-scheme divided can stand—and lay waste to sucka emcee slaveowners. Lincoln's triumphant rejoinder at the Charleston battle still remains his most widely quoted words in academia:
"Put your feet in the right place, then stand firm/
If I put my boot right up your stove-pipe, maybe then you'll learn/
Why Mary Todd chose the emancipator/
And not some pudgy player hater/
Playing with the king debater/
This I do affirm."
And of course, who could forget his smackdown closeout at the October 13th battle of Quincy:
"6 foot four, a bearded mountain of cool/
And no matter what your race I'm gonna take your arse to school/
Maybe after this dis I'll go kick it with Dred Scott/
Remind me one more time, how many black friends you got?"
Lincoln lost the Senate election, but his performance in the debates won him something far more valuable: a recording contract with Def Jam and more groupies than most elected officials of the day could count.
The Richard Nixon Bootleg Sessions (February 1971 - July 1973)
It is well documented that Richard M. Nixon's use of recording devices scattered throughout the White House ultimately led to his implication in the Watergate scandal, and his resignation from office. It is less know, however, that also committed to these recordings are over 12 hours of the 37th president singing, humming, and, on more than one occasion, beat-boxing to himself when he thought nobody else was around. Columbia records is planning to release the newly remastered Nixon Bootleg Sessions as a 4 CD set later this summer, including a cover of "Crocodile Rock" in which the president replaces every noun with "Nixon," a baffling 16-minute singles medley that transitions clumsily from "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" to "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee" from the Grease soundtrack, and Nixon's famous duet with Henry Kissinger to Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song." Crank up the volume on this recording and you can hear the exact moment Nixon and Kissinger's jowls start flapping in unison.
The "Big Three" Jam at Yalta (February 11, 1945)
After nearly a week of exhausting post-WWII bickering at the Livadia Palace, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin came close to making permanent enemies of one another. Until, of course, the Big Three discovered a collection of rock 'n' roll vinyl and instruments kept by the Prime Minister of Crimea's son. Casual bonding over a Stick McGhee's "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" soon escalated into a jam that will live in infamy.
With Stalin on electric guitar, Churchill on bass, and Roosevelt rockin' steady behind the drums, the three broke into what one White House Press staffer called a "righteously epic jam session" that lasted well into the early hours of the following morning. According to the staffer's awestruck account:
"The most shocking incident of the evening occurred as the concert entered it's fourth uninterrupted hour, at which point the President's earlier demands for 'More drums, man!' were judiciously fulfilled. Palace guards and kitchen help came rushing to and fro from distant corridors of the estate with whatever vague percussive implements they could muster, arraying in a circle around the President's chair a host of cowhide toms, garden chimes, brass pots and pans, woven baskets and barrels of varying girth, and finally the guards' own helmets propped on swordpoint in the courtyard grass.
When the President—suddenly shirtless—was fully encircled, he summoned a titanic vigor the likes of which I had never witnessed before, nor indeed have I witnessed hence from any man or beast, tipping himself on the axes of his wheelchair, spinning clock-wise and counter-clock-wise like some mad dervish at dance, attacking with his drumsticks every resonant object in his reach. For the next quarter hour he did not cease, even to adjust the spectacles sliding steadily down his face made slick and glistening by the pouring sweat of his brow.
It was at that moment that I became ultimately, irrevocably assured—Yes, by God. The war had been worth it."
Which president would you like to see rock out?