Obama Says BB King Dying Means "The Blues Has Lost Its King" & The President Remains A Huge Fan
On Thursday, one of our country's foremost musical icon passed away, taking with him a history as rich as any in American performance art. At the age of 89, blues pioneer B.B. King died while in hospice care, and it's triggered an outpouring of recognition and remembrance from generations of fans. And as it happens, one such fan resides in the White House — President Obama released a statement on B.B. King's death Friday, and it summed up his admiration for the musical legend.
Make no mistake, Obama's taste for King's decades-running brand of blues isn't just talk. When you're the President, you can try to get anybody to come entertain you, so who you pick speaks volumes. And, back in 2012, King performed alongside Mick Jagger, Gary Clark Jr. and blues icon Buddy Guy at the White House, and Obama was clearly into it. Into it enough, at the very least, to join King in crooning a line or two himself — truly, regardless of political differences, he is our smoothest, coolest President.
In a statement released Friday, Obama lamented King's passing, but also imparted a cheery thought (if an exclusively religious one) — maybe they'll let King jam up in the heavens.
The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend. B.B. King was born a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi, came of age in Memphis, Tennessee, and became the ambassador who brought his all-American music to his country and the world. No one worked harder than B.B. No one inspired more up-and-coming artists. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues.
Three years ago, Michelle and I hosted a blues concert at the White House. I hadn’t expected that I’d be talked into singing a few lines of “Sweet Home Chicago” with B.B. by the end of the night, but that was the kind of effect his music had, and still does. He gets stuck in your head, he gets you moving, he gets you doing the things you probably shouldn’t do, but will always be glad you did. B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever. And there’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight.
As the Wall Street Journal's Byron Tau points out, Obama's brief but memorable duet with King came just weeks following his highly publicized, pitch-perfect singing of a line from Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." As such, you might think he'd be reluctant to hop back on the mic so soon, and that seemed to be the case — he grinned sheepishly as King challenged him to take the mic. But, being cajoled by such a legend, his resolve clearly crumbled.
And a good thing it did! Because it's evident in Obama's statement on King's passing that now, however it felt at the time, he cherishes that memory — "he gets you doing the things you probably shouldn't do, but will always be glad you did."
It's not the first time he's given a stirring send-off to somebody who touched our creative souls.
Pete Seeger (1914 - 2014)
Seeger, who remained active in performance virtually up until his death in January 2014, Seeger was a towering voice for labor rights and the commoner throughout his decades-long career, a legacy which President Obama acknowledged in a statement following his passing.
Once called “America’s tuning fork,” Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community – to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice – and his hammer – to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Pete’s family and all those who loved him.
Andrae Crouch (1942 - 2015)
Dying back in January of 2015, Andrae Crouch cast a wide shadow over the history of modern-era American gospel music, a fact which earned him remembrances from a wide range of fans, both in and out of the religion business. His death also drew a statement from Obama, hailing his "timeless influence" and "extraordinary musical talent."
Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of music legend Pastor Andrae Crouch. Pastor Crouch grew up the son of a minister in California and discovered at a young age that he was blessed with extraordinary musical talent which would lead to an iconic career that spanned over 50 years. As a leading pioneer of contemporary gospel music, the soulful classics that Pastor Crouch created over the years have uplifted the hearts and minds of several generations and his timeless influence continues to be felt in not only gospel but a variety of music genres. We are grateful that his music and spirit will continue to live on for years to come and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and fans during this time.
Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)
Suffice to say, Williams needs no introduction. The Academy Award winning actor and comedian was a cultural touchstone for so many people, and following his death last year, the White House responded with pretty perfect candor.
Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.
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