Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Crooner-in-Chief

Americans in the past have chosen their presidents based on party, on
stature, on appearance, on rhetoric, on popularity, even on critical
issues from time to time.

But this may be the first presidential race decided on singing
ability. Call it “Campaign 2012” meets “American Idol.”

This all started when President Obama, appearing at a recent
fund-raiser at the Apollo Theater in New York, crooned a couple of
bars from “Let’s Stay Together,” a hit a few years back by renown
R&B/gospel singer Al Green.

And while it’s hard to judge talent on a couple of bars of music, his
performance, in falsetto no less, sounded pretty good. So good, in
fact, it went viral on You Tube (more than 4 million views) and
became available as a smart phone ringtone.

While the President may be struggling to right the economic Ship of
State, he certainly did right by Mr. Green.

Sales of the song rose 490 per cent after Obama’s rendition,
according the Hollywood Reporter.

With than kind of juice, Obama could record an album and pay down the
national debt with the proceeds.

Not to be outdone, Mitt Romney launched into an entire chorus of
“America the Beautiful” at a recent campaign stop in Florida.

The song was surely selected to warm the hearts of conservatives
everywhere. I mean, you couldn’t have Romney singing “Jumpin’ Jack
Flash’’ to a crowd of people who thought the last great American
songwriter was Stephen Foster.

It was the worst idea since Dukakis drove a tank. To put it kindly,
it was soul-less and embarrassing.

Historians may look back and declare Romney was revealed on that day
to be tone deaf both musically and politically.

Yet, some found both performances inspiring. A former colleague
suggested we incorporate singing into a new kind of presidential

Rather than just debating, candidates would compete in singing,
dancing, cooking (have them de-bone a chicken or bake a soufflé),
bartending (have them produce a mai-tai from scratch), free-throw
shooting, a round of golf and a few hands of Texas hold-em.

That would tell us something about their character.

Obama is not the first president or potential president to make music
a part of his persona.

Richard Nixon played “God Bless America” on the piano at one point
during his administration and accompanied Pearl Baily in the East
Room during a social function.

Bill Clinton, before he was president, showed up on the Arsinio Hall
show on night with his saxophone and dark glasses in tow and launched
into a version of “Heartbreak Hotel.” After becoming president,
Clinton jammed with E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons at an
inaugural ball.

Other presidents played although not publicly. John Quincy Adams
played the flute, Chester Arthur the banjo, Woodrow Wilson the
violin. Franklin Roosevelt liked to sing. And John Tyler organized
his 15 children in a White House minstrel band, according to
historical accounts.

But perhaps the most famous of all was Harry Truman who never met a
piano he didn’t like.

Truman once conducted a nationally televised tour of the renovated
White House and played on a 1938 Steinway. The building was
condemned, one account says, when a leg of a piano played by his
daughter Margaret crashed through the floor of the decrepit mansion.

Truman once famously said: "My choice early in life was either to be
a piano-player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the
truth, there's hardly any difference."

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