Music

How President Obama left his musical mark

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? 

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.

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