The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
February 21, 2012
Remarks by the President at “In Performance at the White House” Blues Event
7:22 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you! (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Everybody, please have a seat. That sounded pretty good. (Laughter.) I might try that instead of ruffles and flourishes. (Laughter.)
Well, first of all, I want to wish everybody a happy Mardi Gras. I hear Trombone Shorty brought some beads up from New Orleans. And I see that we’ve got some members of our Cabinet here. We’ve got some members of Congress. And we have elected officials from all across the country.
One of the things about being President — I’ve talked about this before — is that some nights when you want to go out and just take a walk, clear your head, or jump into a car just to take a drive, you can’t do it. Secret Service won’t let you. And that’s frustrating. But then there are other nights where B.B. King and Mick Jagger come over to your house to play for a concert. (Applause.) So I guess things even out a little bit. (Laughter.)
In 1941, the folklorist Alan Lomax travelled throughout the Deep South, recording local musicians on behalf of the Library of Congress. In Stovall, Mississippi, he met McKinley Morganfield, a guitar player who went by the nickname Muddy Waters. And Lomax sent Muddy two pressings from their sessions together, along with a check for $20.
Later in his life, Muddy recalled what happened next. He said, “I carried that record up to the corner and I put it on the jukebox. Just played it and played it, and said, I can do it. I can do it. In many ways, that right there is the story of the blues.
This is music with humble beginnings — roots in slavery and segregation, a society that rarely treated black Americans with the dignity and respect that they deserved. The blues bore witness to these hard times. And like so many of the men and women who sang them, the blues refused to be limited by the circumstances of their birth.
The music migrated north — from Mississippi Delta to Memphis to my hometown in Chicago. It helped lay the foundation for rock and roll, and R&B and hip-hop. It inspired artists and audiences around the world. And as tonight’s performers will demonstrate, the blues continue to draw a crowd. Because this music speaks to something universal. No one goes through life without both joy and pain, triumph and sorrow. The blues gets all of that, sometimes with just one lyric or one note.
And as we celebrate Black History Month, the blues reminds us that we’ve been through tougher times before — that’s why I’m proud to have these artists here — and not just as a fan, but also as the President. Because their music teaches us that when we find ourselves at a crossroads, we don’t shy away from our problems. We own them. We face up to them. We deal with them. We sing about them. We turn them into art. And even as we confront the challenges of today, we imagine a brighter tomorrow, saying, I can do it, just like Muddy Waters did all those years ago.
With that in mind, please join me in welcoming these extraordinary artists to the White House. And now, it is my pleasure to bring out our first performer to the stage, the King of the Blues, Mr. B.B. King. (Applause.)
7:26 P.M. EST