Most of us got our first look Tuesday evening on PBS at the big night for Memphis music at the White House earlier this month.
And if you believe, as I do, that Memphis music is something you identify by feel before you even see who is playing, you have to say the Obamas and their guests got the real thing.
I thought it was interesting to see the President’s daughters taking in the older performers like Sam Moore and Mavis Staples as their mother and father clapped and swayed to the songs.
Older people singing with passion and emotional abandon about the passages of love and life that we probably tend to associate most with the young but which endure as we grow older even if we don’t talk about them in the same ways.
And President Obama said something that I think may be one of the best expressions of the appeal of our music that makes it ours here in Memphis but also makes it the world’s music.
“We don’t even know ourselves how that music has endured for so long,” he said before the show started.
Like all music that matters, if you try to analyze the parts of the music that made and continues to make Memphis great you won’t get to its essence. You also won’t get to it by finding Memphis on the map.
If you don’t believe people beyond our city limits relate to Memphis music on a level just as intense as our own take a look at what Queen Latifah did to “I Can’t Stand the Rain” at the White House and then watch Ben Harper completely forget he is in the White House as he hits a Memphis groove with Charlie Musselwhite on “I’m In. I’m Out And I’m Gone.”
Harper’s performance is a reminder that the influence of Memphis music isn’t a museum piece to be pinned to a board and hung on a wall to look at. It’s living and breathing in the present. And it continues to connect with people who will make it their own and the world’s own for some time to come.