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Bands that have performed at the White House added a feather to their cape and went down in history. A musical performance at the White House is not something that happens every other day. An artist or a band performing at the White House is significant in many ways.
The performance not only becomes a grand moment for the artist or band, but the whole event of an artist performing at the White House at a specific time makes us explore questions from the socio-cultural perspective.
Music has also impacted several unmusical presidents over the years. Abraham Lincoln was one of them. He did not have any potential to play any instrument. He was an awful singer too. However, he was deeply passionate about music. His reception to music was quite emotional.
For him, music was more than entertainment. It was therapy for him. On hearing certain songs, he would start crying. After hearing a musical performance, he went into a deep melancholy state in specific scenarios.
Many performances at the White House can also be found at In Performance at the White House. The show In Performance at the White House was created to showcase and archive the vibrant culture of America with the White House as the setting. Since 1978, the show has recorded possibly every genre of music. In this article, we look back at the artists and bands performing at the White House.
What Artists Have Performed at the White House
The White House can be considered the oldest important place for showcasing performing arts. Performances at the White House date back to the 1790s. The White House is simultaneously a public and a private space.
It functions both as the home and the office of the United States. While the performances at the White House are only accessible to 200 – 300 people live, an artist is performing in front of the whole world while performing at the White House. The simple reason behind it is that it is telecasted.
In this section, we will learn what artists have performed at the White House.
In 1883, during President Chester Arthur’s administration, the famous Canadian Soprano Emma Albani performed in the first-ever East Room concert. This was for the special guests.
During Theodore Roosevelt’s term in the White House, music performances became regular. Many artists performed in the prestigious White House during Roosevelt’s time.
One of the significant artists who is still talked about is Pablo Casals. Pablo, a 28-year-old cellist from Spain, performed at the White House on January 15, 1904. Later, he went on to perform again at the White House during the tenure of John F. Kennedy.
Thomas Greene Bethune
Also known as “Blind Tom,” Thomas Greene Bethune performed in the presence of President Millard Fillmore. A youthful black pianist, Bethune, performed on a shiny new Chickering piano. This is said to be one of the three pianos that Mrs. Fillmore purchased.
If a list of what artists have performed at the white White House is African American, then Marie Selika Williams’ name would come at the top. She is the first black person to perform at the White House. A coloratura soprano artist, Marie performed an entire musical in front of President Rutherford B. Hayes’.
Mildred Dilling was invited for a performance at the White House by president Herbert Hoover. Dilling was invited to do a concert for King Phra Pok Klao of Siam’s visit. Mildred began the tradition of musicians performing at the visit of the heads of a state.
When Dylan performed at the White House in 2010, Obama was thrilled. On watching Dylan, Obama said he is exactly as one would expect him to be. Dylan performed ‘The Times They Are Changing’ with some new arrangements.
Obama said that the song sounded different with the new arrangement. Obama says that Dylan was not overwhelmed by the idea that he was performing in front of the President, and that’s what he liked about him.
A White House performance is primarily a formal affair. But it was not so in the case of Justin Timberlake. Timberlake performed at the White House with his jolly attitude. He was quite casual when he performed ‘The Dock of the Bay.
His performance made everyone sing along with him and swing. Timberlake’s performance was selected from “In Performance at the White House.” Although he was on stage with the legendary 71-year-old guitarist Steve Cropper and Mavis was to perform after him, he was not nervous. On the contrary, Timberlake seemed at home in front of the elites of Washington at the White House.
Indian music composer, producer, singer, and academy award winner A.R Rahaman performed at the White House in 2009. The occasion upon which he was invited to perform was the first state dinner of Mr. and Mrs. Obama.
Rahaman, who shot to global fame with the success of Slumdog Millionaire followed by 127 hours, performed with his troupe in the presence of Barack Obama and former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.
A starry group of performers accompanied Camila Cabello for a performance at the White House in 2021. She went over the top with mariachi to perform a rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” However, this is not the first performance of Camila Cabello at the White House. She performed as a part of the band Fifth Harmony. The band performed “All I Want for Christmas.” The occasion was Barack Obama’s National Tree Lighting. This was back in 2016.
On the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment of the Arts & the National Endowment of the Humanities legislation, Queen Latifah performed at the white. Her performance was a part of Obama’s celebration of the arts. She was also joined by artists such as Smokey Robison, Audra McDonald, Usher & many more.
Chance the Rapper
Chance, the Rapper, was invited to perform at the White House on the occasion of the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Nico Segal accompanied the Rapper. The Obamas watched Chance’s performance with a smile. Sasha Obama even did a rap with him. Obama also said that Chance is one of the handful of rappers that he likes listening to.
Popularly known by her stage name Falu, Shah was born in Mumbai, India. She shot to global fame by winning the Grammy in the Best Children’s Album category for her work A Colorful World.
Falguni is a singer and songwriter based in New York. Her music involves mixing up ancient Indian melody with the western tunes that dominate pop culture. She has collaborated and performed with a variety of musicians. These include AR Rahaman, Yo-Yo Ma, Philip Glass, her guru Ustad Sultan Khan, Wyclef Jean, Bernie Worrell & several others.
In 2009, in May, Falguni Shahs performed a rendition of Jai ho at the White House. The crowd included Michelle Obama, Barbara Walters, Liv Tyler, Oprah Winfrey & many more.
She was again invited to perform at the White House in the year 2009 during November for performing at Obama’s inaugural State Dinner. This was in honor of Dr. Manmohan Singh, former Prime Minister of India.
What Groups Have Performed at the White House
Music is popularly considered the language of the universe. It has broken barriers and shaped history in ways many other art forms could not. The White House has played a significant role in hosting diverse musical performances. Ranging from United States Marine Band performances to Justin Timberlake, the White House has significantly impacted American music history.
Apart from solo artists mentioned above, the White House also witnessed performances from musical groups. Recognizing underrated young groups has also been one of the critical characteristics of the White House performances. Let’s look at what groups have performed at the White House in the past.
United States Marine Band
The first occupants of the White House in Washington, President and Mrs. John Adams, were passionate music lovers. They invited the United States Marine Band for a performance on New Year’s Day, 1801. The occasion was their first reception.
The United States Marine Band consisted of eight to ten band members. To date, marine band performances happen at the White House. They have also earned the title “The President’s Own.” It can be said that they are one of the first bands that have performed at the White House.
The Baker Family
During Zachary Taylor’s tenure at the White House, the Baker Family sang songs for the President and the family in the White House. The performance was not much inclined towards making a social or political statement.
Instead, the Baker Family always tried to hit the emotional chords with sentimentality. This shows us how certain bands that have performed at the White House avoided political confrontations through their music. The choice of musical performances at the White House is primarily conservative. There is less innovation.
The Hutchinson Family
The Hutchinson Family Singers, who President John Tyler first invited to perform at the White House, went on to perform for seven different presidents. Their music reflected the unrest of the pre-Civil War era. The family was primarily political and had strong opinions regarding various political ideologies. They were also recognized as abolitionists.
Northwell Health Nurse Choir
Northwell Health Nurse Choir performed “We Need A Little Christmas” at “In Performance at The White House: Spirit of the Season.” on December 21, 2021. Formed in 2020, this group is composed of frontline health workers. The nurses belonging to different strata of the societies have made a significant mark not only for themselves but for all the healthline workers across the globe. Their music positively impacted many lives during the pandemic.
Influence of music on the White House
Another fascinating thing to study is what groups performed at the White House. This is because they give us a sneak peek into the cultural history of what kind of music was preferred at various points of time in history at the White House.
The President’s and their families’ political and personal tastes significantly influence what music is played at the mansion. Although conventional music choices dominated the White House, some exceptions, such as Roosevelt, were there.
Through these artists and bands that have performed at the White House, we can trace a lyrical history of the people of America. This also makes us realize how music has been made, consumed, and re-made in a democracy under the administration from Washington to Biden.
Upcoming music performances at the White House
During Trump’s tenure, we witnessed a lack of musical performances, which showed that Trump might not have much interest in music. There were few musical performances and bands that have performed at the White House, maybe because many artists also refused to perform during the tenure of Trump.
Artists like Celina Dion, Elton John, and other performers refused to perform at the White House during Donald Trump’s inauguration. Music has the power to bring opposites together. In this current scenario, when the world is going through a divide in many things, maybe music can heal.
Things are indeed better than during Trump’s reign. The invitation of BTS to the White House by Biden is a significant step in Asian representation and addressing Asian hate. However, things are not as vibrant as during Obama’s tenure.
During Obama’s time, musical performances included almost every genre one could think of. From country music to classical, experimental, R&B, and many more added vibrance. Obama used his position brilliantly to represent art, expose America to various music, and give place to diversity. All we hope is for art to thrive in the White House with Biden.
Thus, we looked at the bands that have performed at the White House. It is interesting to see the change in the musical landscape. We also saw how White House is not only about solo artists but also about the performances of groups.