In honor of Barack Obama’s birthday, we highlight five moments during his presidency where he promoted black music.
Barack Obama was and will always be a culturally important figure in the history of the United States of America. As the first African American president of this country, Obama served the position with poise and grace while being one of the coolest presidents this country has ever seen. Even now, as he’s transitioned from the 44th POTUS to a private citizen, Obama is still appreciated and cherished by a number of people across the United States (more than half of the country wants him back as president) for multiple reasons.
Over here at Okayplayer, one of the many reasons why we cherish Obama is because of the culture — specifically black culture — he championed and encouraged during his time as president. From inviting Common to perform at the White House to honoring Chicago house music pioneer Frankie Knuckles, Obama celebrated the diversity of black music in more ways than one. So, in honor of his birthday, we celebrate Obama by highlighting five moments during his presidency where he promoted black music.
1. Barack Obama Sings “Let’s Stay Together”
Arguably the first music-related moment that comes to mind when Obama is mentioned, the former POTUS took the stage at the Apollo Theater to encourage people to vote for him again during the 2012 presidential election. Ultimately, Obama was re-elected and celebrated the victory by dancing the night away with wife Michelle Obama, while singer Jennifer Hudson sang “Let’s Stay Together.”
2. Barack Obama Invites Common To Perform At The White House
When the Obamas invited Common to the White House to be a part of their “An Evening Of Poetry” event, they surely didn’t expect the backlash they’d get from conservative media and news outlets (Fox News website Fox Nation had referred to Common as “vile” and a “cop killer rapper”). Nevertheless, Common still participated in the event and gave an intimate and memorable performance to the Obamas and a group of high-schoolers watched on.
“I woke up with the sunshine, a sunshine I had never seen,” Common rapped while accompanied by the soft sounds of a twinkling piano. “There was light at the end of it, reminding me to forever dream. I was dreaming I walked into the White House with love on my sleeve and love for each and every one of you, reminding you to believe.
3. Barack Obama Honors Frankie Knuckles
As a Chicago native, it’s not surprising that Obama honored the late Chicago house music pioneer Frankie Knuckles when he passed away in 2014. Barack and Michelle shared a letter offering their condolences to Knuckles’ friends and family while celebrating the artist’s impact on music.
“Frankie’s work helped open minds and bring people together, blending genres to capture our attention and ignite our imaginations,” Barack and Michelle wrote. “He was a trailblazer in his field, and his legacy lives on in the city of Chicago and on dance floors across the globe.”
Fun Fact: Barack is also the reason why August 25 is known as Frankie Knuckles Day in Chicago, having gotten the honor approved back in 2004 when he was a senator.
4. Barack Obama Chooses Kendrick Lamar Over Drake
Both are great artists in their own right but here was a moment where we were able to witness Obama be a rap head, and join in one of the many big rap conversations that dominated 2015 and early 2016.
“Gotta go with Kendrick,” Obama said after YouTube personality Adande Thorne, known on the video streaming platform as SWooZie, showed him a side-by-side photo of the two rappers. “I think Drake is an outstanding entertainer, Kendrick… his lyrics, his last album, was outstanding. Best album, I think, of last year.”
Ultimately, Drake referenced Obama’s choice on his song “Summer Sixteen,” rapping: “Tell Obama that my verses are just like the whips that he in, they bulletproof.”
5. Barack Obama’s Playlists
In 2015, Obama released two Spotify playlists for the summer, with one labeled “Day” and the other “Night.” The mixes included an eclectic mix of artists, including Miles Davis, Erykah Badu, Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), D’Angelo, John Coltrane, Nina Simone, and others.
“Due to popular request, here are my vacation playlists,” Obama had written on his POTUS Twitter account announcing the release of the playlists.
The playlists would turn into a tradition for Obama. He has released a new one every summer since. Turns out Obama was quite the music curator, too.
This story was first published on August 4th, 2017.