Between hosting a music festival on the White House lawn to curating musically-diverse Spotify playlists, President Barack Obama was a proponent in promoting the musical arts in the office of Commander in Chief. We have not had a U.S. president so actively involved in developing a connection through music to younger generations since former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961. While many cite former presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon as musical prodigies designed to set the country aflame with their musical passions, Obama brought an element of genuineness that paid homage to past influences while keeping up with modern musical traditions.
Even before he was elected into office back in 2008, Obama was rallying behind his diverse taste in music, which the former president has often described as mix of both the old, citing Stevie Wonder and Al Green, and new, citing Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z. In an interview with Black Entertainment Television, a black cable network station, in 2008, Obama claimed that “the thing about hip-hop today is that it’s smart. It’s inciteful and the way that they can communicate a complex message in such a short space is remarkable.”
“A lot of these kids won’t be reading the New York Times,” added Obama.
Piggybacking off of these musical notions, in August 2015, The Telegraph, a UK-based news source, reported that “Obama has never been shy about sharing his taste in music … [he] has had striking success with the musical community.” Compared to other efforts attempted by countless politicians, such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan with Rage Against the Machine, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney with K’naan and former Governor of Florida Charlie Crist with The Talking Heads, Obama yearns for a connection rather than simply utilizing a song to rally behind for elections. In a way, Obama was instrumental in bridging the gap between music and politics, even inviting well-known musicians to perform in the White House, including Chance the Rapper, Alabama Shakes and Mick Jagger.
If you were paying attention this summer, the White House’s Spotify account, which published Obama’s personal playlists, released their second-annual Presidential Summer playlists with one highlighting the day and the other highlighting the night. These playlists were not only eclectic, but informative in nature, spotlighting the likes of everyone from The Beach Boys and Leon Bridges to D’Angelo and Fiona Apple. Obama’s music taste acts almost as a history lesson rather than a showcase of musical preference.
However, for his 55th birthday party, Obama aimed to submit to his modernist taste as he hosted the first-ever music festival on the White House lawn on Oct. 3, labeled South by South Lawn, and featured the likes of The Lumineers and The Dap Kings. While many label him as a presidential hipster, Obama was in fact the person that we needed to run the country with a multi-cultural mindframe amongst all of the racial struggles that are still prevalent in our society.
Now that the 2016 Presidential Election is over, we can truly reflect on how the candidates paled in comparison to the cultural diversity that Obama brought to the White House and deep down, we are all going to miss his highly eclectic playlists.