Barack Obama sang the blues last night.
I saw it coming. When Chicago’s blues icon Buddy Guy started egging the president to join in on Sweet Home Chicago, I figured I was about to witness an encore singing excursion, a follow-up to the “I’m so in love with you” debut performance last month. This time, instead of the Apollo, the president was playing the East Room at the White House, singing a duet with “The King of the Blues,” B.B. King, and a gaggle of other blues stars as back up.
“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,” President Obama said in his opening remarks for the Black History Month celebration concert as it was live streamed over the Internet.
“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.”
One of those artists who was inspired by the blues was there and featured: Mick Jagger.
His presence struck a sour note for me. Watching the lead singer of “the world’s greatest rock and roll band” headlining at a blues concert in the White House made me instantly think of Dr. John’s lyrics “I been in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time.”
Here we had an English rocker pretending to be a blues performer in America’s House.
It was a bad juxtaposition for me: my friend, Sugar Blue, would have been a better choice.
Blue was the harmonica player on Miss You, the second song Jagger sang last night at the White House and my favorite Rolling Stones hit. When you listen to the 1978 recording, the song’s driving, defining beat is Blue’s harmonica rift. When Mick sang the song last night, I missed Blue.
Sugar Blue’s was no ordinary wedding.
First of all, his lovely bride was Ilaria Lantieri, his band’s bass guitarist who is also an MD in her native Italy. Their wedding was a three-layered affair. It was a conventional wedding imbued with a Native American Smudge Ceremony followed by the jumping of the broom. The guests were their extended blues family--Blues greats Billy Branch, Detra Farr, Corky Siegel, Jimmy Johnson, Eddie Clearwater and Billy Boy Arnold were present as were the children of Jimmy Reed, Howlin Wolf and the grandchildren of Willie Dixon.
Following the ceremonies on Chicago’s South Side, we all went to Rosa’s Lounge, the blues club on the city’s near northwest side. That’s where the bride, and her Grammy award-winning groom, took to the stage to play some blues. They were soon joined by many of their other talented blues guests.
And while the White House celebration was a sweet way to spend a couple of hours, Rosa’s rocked the night away.