Video capturing President Obama’s appearance at a fundraiser at the Apollo Theater back in January “went viral,” though for reasons that had nothing to do with his political policies. In front of Reverend Al Green himself, the president charmingly crooned a few lines of the soul legend’s biggest hit, 1971’s “Let’s Stay Together.” The YouTube hits racked up, as did the jokes about Obama transitioning into music if this whole re-election thing doesn’t work out.
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In a new Rolling Stone cover story on the president, he reveals the circumstances surrounding his impromptu performance of “Let’s Stay Together.” The real takeaway from the story behind Obama’s now-famous cover is his sheer confidence about the whole thing: “I can sing. I wasn’t worried about being able to hit those notes.”
Obama explains his inspiration: “It was my fifth event of the day. It’s about 10:30 at night, and we go up to the Apollo. I wanted to hear Al Green. The guys who were working the soundboard in the back, a couple of real good guys, they say, ‘Oh, man, you missed the Reverend, but he was terrific, he was in rare form.’ So I was frustrated by that. Since I was on my fifth event and have been yakking away for several hours on all kinds of policy stuff, I just kind of broke into a rendition of ‘Let’s Stay Together.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, so the president, you can sing, man. You should do that onstage.’
“[Senior advisor] Valerie Jarrett was with us, and she was like [whispers, making a slashing motion across his throat], ‘No, no…,” Obama says. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. You don’t think I can do that onstage?’ I looked at [press secretary] Jay Carney, and he was tired too, and he said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ So I went up there and we did it.”
The Apollo performance set an expectation for the president, who has since flexed his musical muscle with a headline-grabbing performance of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” alongside Mick Jagger, B.B. King and Buddy Guy at the White House’s Red, White & Blues event back in February. Just two days ago (April 24) on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, the president continued his musical dominance with a parody performance alongside Fallon and house band The Roots, which was dubbed “Slow Jam The News.”
“I was actually trying to avoid singing,” Obama says of his “Sweet Home Chicago” performance. “The only problem with my Apollo performance is that everywhere I go now, somebody wants me to sing. My whole point is that the fewer the performances, the higher the ticket price, so you don’t want to overdo it.
All in a day’s work.
–Jillian Mapes, CBS Local
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