How President Obama left his musical mark

How President Obama left his musical mark


Obama, Queen B and Jay Z

Barack Obama has long been open about his close friendship with pop queen Beyoncé and her husband, rapper Jay Z. "I like Mozart - but I like Kanye and I'm a Jay Z fan, too," he said in 2008, reported Pitchfork. Beyoncé performed at Obama's first inauguration in 2009. He told Cleveland Z107.9 radio host Colby Colb in 2012 that the diva "could not be sweeter to Michelle and the girls."


The woman who made Obama cry

Beyoncé isn't the only diva in Obama's life. Soul legend Aretha Franklin performed "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at his 2009 inauguration and her "Rock Steady" made the president's Spotify playlists in 2015 and 2016. Her December 2015 concert at the Kennedy Center hit Obama's soft spot, moving him to tears.


Obama goes digital

After being elected in 2008, Obama revealed his iPod playlist featuring songs by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jay Z, Miles Davis and others. Another iPod tune list was released after his re-election in 2012. In 2015, however, he announced on Twitter that he was publishing two summer playlists (labeled day and night) on Swedish streaming service Spotify - also signaling his tech savviness.


Music of the heart

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis has been a regular on Obama's playlists, as have Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. But the president's musical taste isn't stuck in the past. He's also included acts like Coldplay, Justin Timberlake and John Legend, as well as lesser-known musicians like the Philadelphia band Low Cut Connie.


Obama, the performer

President Obama is not only a long-time fan of musical genres ranging from soul and jazz to rock and rap, he also hasn't been shy about revealing his own musical talent. During a speech at Apollo Theater in Harlem in January 2012, he broke out into an a cappella rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" after noting that singer known as The Reverend was personally in the house.


Obama and B.B. King

In February 2012, B.B. King performed at the White House Blues Festival and by the end of the night, Obama was joining in on "Sweet Home Chicago." When King passed away in May 2015, Obama said, "B.B. King may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever. And there’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight."


Amazing Grace

While Obama has been known to get emotional about music, he moved many to tears himself in June 2015 when he sang during the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed during a mass shooting at one of the oldest African-American churches in South Carolina. The president's rendition of "Amazing Grace" went viral.


Obama and Jimmy

Obama has always positioned himself as a down-to-earth, media-savvy politician who meets the public in their space: prime-time TV. He appeared on Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show" in both 2012 and 2016 to slow jam the news, most recently pointing out the successes of his presidency, including boosting jobs and environmental protection. The video has since garnered over 12 million views on YouTube.


Rap in the Rose Garden

In May 2009, Lin-Manuel Miranda performed at the White House Poetry Jam, debuting what would later become the opening song for the hit musical "Hamilton." Just last year, Obama met Miranda again in the White House Rose Garden, where the latter freestyle rapped a rundown of the president's accomplishments.


Boosting media and music

Like many presidents before him, Obama has hosted numerous music festivals at the White House. But in 2016 both he and Michelle Obama made appearances at the renowned SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, a media and music event that has grown in recent years. The Lumineers performed "Stubborn Love" on the day of his visit - a song that also made Obama's 2015 playlist.


Obama the father

"It's a job of a father to embarrass his daughters," said Obama as he sang "Happy Birthday" to Malia during her 18th birthday bash on July 4, 2016. Obama wasn't the only performer that night. Funk-soul artist Janelle Monae and rapper Kendrick Lamar were also on the rundown - though they were likely less embarrassing for Malia.


He can sing and dance

In many musical genres, moving your feet is half the act and both Barack and Michelle Obama didn't disappoint last February when they welcomed Virginia McLaurin to the White House. The then 106-year-old resident of Washington, DC was invited to celebrate Black History Month - and the trio broke out spontaneously in a dance.


Michelle does Carpool Karaoke

Barack Obama isn't the only talent in the family. Michelle Obama joined comedian James Cordon for a round of Carpool Karaoke in July 2016, chiming in on tunes from Stevie Wonder and Beyoncé. Surprise guest Missy Elliott even turned up to sing "This Is for My Girls."

Barack Obama not only became the first US president to publish his jazz, rock and rap-laden Spotify playlist, he showed off his own singing talent many times. Here's a look back at his musical legacy.

From the beginning of his presidency in 2008, music has been a way for Barack Obama to connect with people (who doesn't like Miles Davis or Aretha Franklin?), prove how tech savvy he is (POTUS has a Spotify account?), and have an emotional impact by moving people to tears with his own vocal talent.

While political motives can certainly be found in Obama's regularly published playlists - initially on iTunes, then on Spotify - he's been the first president to be so open about his musical taste.

His love of jazz is a constant. Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Billie Holiday are staples on his playlists. However, he's also been an outspoken fan of hip hop - as long as its lyrics don't cause any sexism or violence scandals. Jay Z, Common, Chance the Rapper and Mos Def have made his playlists.

We may never know whether his selection of Columbian salsa band Sonora Carruseles was meant to win kudos with the Hispanic community and Coldplay and Lianne La Havas were a nod to US-UK relations. But either way, Obama can't be accused of not promoting musical diversity: Even the Beach Boys were included on his 2016 summer playlist.

POTUS on stage

Nevertheless, Obama's playlists may soon land on the digital wayside, but we won't forget his own musical performances. Over the past eight years, they have become too numerous to be incidental. While acting celebrities like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger went into politics, could Obama become the first former president to pursue a second career on stage?

Arguably his most moving moment was Obama's spontaneous rendition of "Amazing Grace" while delivering the eulogy for South Carolina State Senator and pastor Clementa Pinckney in June 2015. Pinckney was murdered days earlier in a mass shooting at his church.

Obama is always to be had for a good laugh - and a penchant for hip hop. The president has joined "Hamilton" creator and multi-talented musician Lin-Manuel Miranda as well as "The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon for freestyle rap performances.

If blues legend B.B. King were singing at your house, would you join right in? Obama did during the White House Blues Festival in February 2012.

When King died in 2015, Obama recalled that night. "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."

Even if Obama doesn't have a music career ahead of him, he'll still be able to perform at family gatherings - as he did during his daughter Malia's 18th birthday celebration last July. President or not - what teenager doesn't want their dad to sing at their birthday party? 

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As Obama bids farewell and turns the page on his POTUS career, click through the gallery above for a look back at his musical encounters over the past eight years.