There is a long tradition of country musicians performing at the White House, dating back to at least Franklin D. Roosevelt. Johnny Cash played for Richard Nixon; Tammy Wynette sang for Gerald Ford; and Willie Nelson performed for Jimmy Carter. In more recent years, Alan Jackson and Toby Keith have taken the stage.
On Tuesday, the current first family welcomed a mix of some of country’s biggest stars into their home. “Now, I know folks think I’m a ‘city boy,’” President Obama said in his opening remarks. “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. It’s touched countless lives, it’s influenced all genres of music, it’s helped us make the American people more hopeful, it’s captured our restlessness and resilience, and told so much of our story in the process.”
Said bluegrass diva Alison Krauss, “Something’s going right if there’s a banjo in the White House.” Krauss and her band Union Station, as well as Brad Paisley (currently No. 1 on the country charts) and Charley Pride performed in the East Room.
Watch Krauss and guitarist Dan Tyminski of Union Station perform the hymn “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”:
Paisley got teary, reported the Washington Post, when he performed “Welcome to the Future,” which is on his latest album, “American Saturday Night.” The song was inspired by feelings Paisley had sensed in New York on the night Mr. Obama was elected. “Your dream as a songwriter is to write an account of a current event and deliver it for the person who it is about,” he said.
Pride, 71, had previously performed for presidents Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Being one of the first and only well-recognized, black country singers, Pride said about President Obama, “There’s a similarity in what he has done and what I went through,” reported the New York Times.
Tuesday’s concert marked the second in the White House Music Series. Each program includes practical workshops with the artists sharing tips and inspiration with middle- and high-school musicians. On Tuesday afternoon, Krauss and Paisley joined some 120 students in the State Dining Room of the White House to share songs and answer questions. “Enjoy your own voice,” Krauss advised, after revealing there was a time she was uncomfortable with her sound.
Last month, the theme was jazz and featured the Marsalis family — father Ellis with sons Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason — along with Paquito D’Rivera.
This fall, a third concert will be dedicated to classical music.