Blues at the White House


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



This is music with humble beginnings—roots in slavery and segregation, a society that

rarely treated black Americans with the dignity and respect that they deserved.  The

blues bore witness to these hard times.  And like so many of the men and women

who sang them, the blues refused to be limited by the circumstances of their birth. 



Blues at the White House

An Introduction by President Barack Obama



21 February 2012

East Room

Thank you!  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Everybody, please have a seat.  That sounded pretty good.  I might try that instead of ruffles and flourishes. 

Well, first of all, I want to wish everybody a happy Mardi Gras.  I hear Trombone Shorty brought some beads up from New Orleans.  And I see that we’ve got some members of our Cabinet here.  We’ve got some members of Congress.  And we have elected officials from all across the country.

One of the things about being President—I’ve talked about this before—is that some nights when you want to go out and just take a walk, clear your head, or jump into a car just to take a drive, you can’t do it.  Secret Service won’t let you.  And that’s frustrating.  But then there are other nights where B.B. King and Mick Jagger come over to your house to play for a concert.  So I guess things even out a little bit. 

In 1941, the folklorist Alan Lomax travelled throughout the Deep South, recording local musicians on behalf of the Library of Congress.  In Stovall, Mississippi, he met McKinley Morganfield, a guitar player who went by the nickname Muddy Waters.  And Lomax sent Muddy two pressings from their sessions together, along with a check for $20.

Later in his life, Muddy recalled what happened next.  He said, “I carried that record up to the corner and I put it on the jukebox.  Just played it and played it, and said, I can do it.  I can do it.  In many ways, that right there is the story of the blues. 

This is music with humble beginnings—roots in slavery and segregation, a society that rarely treated black Americans with the dignity and respect that they deserved.  The blues bore witness to these hard times.  And like so many of the men and women who sang them, the blues refused to be limited by the circumstances of their birth. 

The music migrated north—from Mississippi Delta to Memphis to my hometown in Chicago.  It helped lay the foundation for rock and roll, and R&B and hip-hop.  It inspired artists and audiences around the world.  And as tonight’s performers will demonstrate, the blues continue to draw a crowd.  Because this music speaks to something universal.  No one goes through life without both joy and pain, triumph and sorrow.  The blues gets all of that, sometimes with just one lyric or one note. 

And as we celebrate Black History Month, the blues reminds us that we’ve been through tougher times before—that’s why I’m proud to have these artists here—and not just as a fan, but also as the President.  Because their music teaches us that when we find ourselves at a crossroads, we don’t shy away from our problems.  We own them.  We face up to them.  We deal with them.  We sing about them.  We turn them into art.  And even as we confront the challenges of today, we imagine a brighter tomorrow, saying, I can do it, just like Muddy Waters did all those years ago. 

With that in mind, please join me in welcoming these extraordinary artists to the White House.  And now, it is my pleasure to bring out our first performer to the stage, the King of the Blues, Mr. B.B. King. 

Source: WhiteHouse

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The White House Sings the Blues

By Cindy Clark


21 February 2012

What: In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues, a concert celebrating blues music and Black History Month. It’s a continuation of the music series hosted by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. When: The tribute, taped Tuesday in the East Room, airs Monday on PBS stations (check local listings).

Who: Hosted by actress Taraji P. Henson, the program includes performances by Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Jeff Beck, Gary Clark Jr., Shemekia Copeland, Buddy Guy, Warren Haynes, Keb Mo, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. Booker T. Jones serves as music director and band leader.

A splashy arrival: King, 86, snazzily attired in a sparkling smoking jacket and black bow tie, is wheeled in to cheers and a standing ovation.

Bearing witness to hard times: The president kicks off the night by speaking to blues music’s humble beginnings. “No one goes through life without knowing joy and pain, triumph and sorrow,” he says. “(The blues) teaches us that when we find ourselves at a crossroads, we don’t shy away from our problems. We own them, we deal with them, we sing about them.”

First up: To everyone’s delight, Obama introduces “the King of the Blues.” The crowd claps along as B.B. King launches into Let the Good Times Roll, supported by an all-star ensemble. “Mr. President, I’ve been praying for you for two years … I just want you to keep your job,” he announces by way of introducing The Thrill Is Gone.

Lots of love: Trombone Shorty and recent Grammy winner (for best pop instrumental album) Jones treat the crowd to St. James Infirmary. Guy and Beck follow with Let Me Love You Baby. “And I know they mean it!” says Henson.

Mick makes an entrance: When it’s Jagger’s turn, he dances his way into the room, flailing his hands and pointing his fingers. The Obamas (and the first lady’s mother, Marian Robinson) appear amused as they stand and clap along as Jagger enthusiastically sings I Can’t Turn You Loose. “It’s a great honor to be here,” says a winded Jagger, sporting a bright-red shirt and matching sneakers. “Doing a show for the blues, something I fell in love with when I was about 12.” He goes on to duet with Beck on Commit a Crime.

“Mecca of blues”: Afterward, Jagger reminisces about his first trip to Chicago in 1964, which he called the “mecca of blues recording … We met all of our favorites, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry.” As Brits wanting to sing the blues, “They must have thought we were from Mars or something. But they were very kind and gave us lots of tips. Most aren’t with us anymore, but one was B.B. King.” He finishes his set with “Miss You.”

Nod of approval: Obama nods his head and sings along as Clark rocks out “Catfish Blues” on his guitar.

Remembering Etta: Tedeschi, Trucks and Haynes sing Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind. The fiery singer, who died last month, “could do it all, could make your heart melt with a ballad like At Last,” Henson says. “She will be missed … but she will never be forgotten.”

The White House Blues All-Stars: Jagger returns to the stage with Guy, Beck and Clark—an ensemble Henson dubs “the White House Blues All-Stars”—for late blues great Eddie Boyd’s Five Long Years.

The big finish: “Sweet Home Chicago” salutes the Obamas’ hometown. As the song wraps up, the president thanks the crowd, but Guy won’t let him off the hook that easily. Obama gamely takes the mike, crooning, “Come on, baby don’t you want to go … sweet home Chicago.”

Source: TucsonCitizen

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In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues

Blues legend B.B. King performs with an all-star cast at a White House event titled “In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues.”  As part of the In Perfomance series, music legends and contemporary artists were invited to perform at the White House for a celebration of blues music and in recognition of Black History Month. The program featured appearances by B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Gary Clark, Jr., Shemekia Copeland, Buddy Guy, Warren Haynes, Mick Jagger, Keb’ Mo’, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, with Taraji P. Henson as the program host and Booker T. Jones as music director and bandleader. The event took place on February 21st, 2012.



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Blues legends, Mick Jagger perform at the White House

President Obama sings ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ with B.B. King and Buddy Guy

 Blues as Secularized Spirituals  /

Cocaine and the Blues  / Listening to the Blues Is a Duty and Responsibility

Muddy Waters I Can’t Be Satisfied on PBSLiving Legends  / 

Robert Johnson of Hazelhurst


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Barack Obama Deals Crippling Blow to Unions, Black Economic Self-Help—22 February 2012—Bruce A. Dixon—In the real world, the most successful collective economic self-help organizations of the last hundred and fifty years have been labor unions. A single 3 day strike by the black led New York City transit workers in 2005 protected the homes, the medical care, retirement security, college educations and living standards of more black families than the half-dozen wealthiest black Americans – that would be Oprah, Puffy, Bob Johnson, Tiger Woods, Bill Cosby and some real estate guy have employed or helped in their entire careers.

In the real world, working people, especially black and brown working people, are eager to help themselves, and the most potent way to do that has been to form and join unions. When offered the chance, black women are the most likely joiners, followed in order by black men, Latino women and men, and finally by white women and men. Why then, has US private sector union membership dipped to around 6% of the workforce? It’s not because unions were outmoded or greedy or not in step with the times. It’s because increasing corporate domination of US political life has resulted in laws and court decisions which have made most strikes illegal, collective bargaining extremely difficult, and organizing unions in the first place nearly impossible. . . .

This week President Obama betrayed the collective economic interest of black and working people by signing into law new restrictions on the formation of unions. From now on bosses in many sectors can file anti-union lawsuits and depose under oath workers who sign union cards. Employers can add unpaid ghosts and no-show workers to eligibility lists to prevent union drives from getting a majority of eligible signatures. The same law also makes it easier for corporations to dismiss union recognition and contracts by changing their ownership.

This was no compromise forced upon the president by unreasonable Republicans. This was the unprovoked and naked surrender of our rights to economic self-help, our rights to struggle for a living wage, for dignity and security for all our families by a Trojan Horse black president elected with black and union support, but governing on behalf of his real masters, the lords of capital.—


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Obama to unions: See you later—15 February 2012—His labor allies are undermined as the president signs a law that will discourage workers from organizing—Josh Eidelson—On Jan. 20, with both parties saying it was time to resolve the issue once and for all, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a compromise with the GOP: The FAA bill would stay silent on how union election votes are counted – meaning the NMB rule stays in place until future NMB appointees reverse it.  But labor will face a steeper obstacle earlier in the process.  Rather than being required to submit signatures from 35 percent of workers in a bargaining unit to trigger an election (as had been required), unions would have to submit signatures from a majority just for a vote to be held.  It wasn’t immediately obvious what was so bad about this; in most cases, filing for a union election without a strong majority committed to vote yes is organizing malpractice.  Many unions were slow to issue reactions, and a few voiced support.

But the devil was in the details.  In a Jan. 30 letter, 18 international unions called on the House and Senate to reject the deal, writing that otherwise “Airline and rail workers would suffer significant losses as contracts are jettisoned, collective bargaining rights are cut and legal hurdles will be placed in the way of gaining a voice at work.” (Full disclosure: I used to work at UNITE HERE, one of the signing organizations.)  “This is our Wisconsin,” Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Veda Shook told a Communications Workers of America crowd before Congress voted on the deal.—



Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues

                                                         By Ida Cox

I hear these women raving ’bout their monkey men About their fighting husbands and their no good friends These poor women sit around all day and moan Wondering why their wandering papas don’t come home But wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have the blues. Now when you’ve got a man, don’t ever be on the square ‘Cause if you do he’ll have a woman everywhere I never was known to treat no one man right I keep ’em working hard both day and night because wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues. I’ve got a disposition and a way of my own When my man starts kicking I let him find another home I get full of good liquor, walk the streets all night Go home and put my man out if he don’t act right Wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues You never get nothing by being an angel child You better change your ways and get real wild I wanna tell you something, I wouldn’t tell you no lie Wild women are the only kind that ever get by Wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues.

Born Ida Prather, 25 February 1896 in Toccoa, Habersham County, Georgia, United States. Died 10 November 1967 (aged 71) Genres Jazz, Blues Instruments Vocalist.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.” 

His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

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Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King’s birthday ended up becoming a national holiday (“The Last Holiday because America can’t afford to have another national holiday”), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.

Gil uses Lennon’s violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King’s assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —

Jamie Byng, Guardian

 Gil_reads_”Deadline” (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 22 February 2012




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