"From “If I Only Had a Brain” to “Sweet Home Chicago”: A Complete Guide to Barack Obama’s Music Career"
President Obama’s been making headlines for singing in recent weeks, whether it’s Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” or pulling out some soul to serenade his hometown with a rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago.” But just as Bill Clinton had his saxaphone, the current First Family, POTUS in particular, has made a regular habit of rocking out in public over the years, and I don’t just mean singing along to “This Land Is Your Land” at his pre-Inauguration festivities. So here’s a guide to the notable song choices and dance moves the Obamas have employed since the family hit the national stage for real. They may not be ready for The Voice or So You Think You Can Dance (having seen them do an Inaugural Ball shuffle, I can attest to this in person), but for a couple of middle-aged folks, the Obamas seem like a decent couple to bring along for a night of karaoke:
1. “If I Only Had a Brain,” Gridiron Dinner, 2006: Sadly, I couldn’t track down video of this, but the members of the Gridiron Club had Obama, then in his freshman term in the Senate, sing a parody version of the Scarecrow’s song from the Wizard of Oz, including these lyrics: “I’m aspiring to greatness, but somehow I feel weightless, a freshman’s sad refrain. I could be a great uniter, making ethics rules much tighter, if I only had McCain.”
2. “Chain of Fools,” Detroit, 2008: On the campaign trail in 2008, Obama busted out some Aretha in honor of the hometown diva. And man does he sound good:
3. “See You Again,” Inauguration Weekend, 2009: So it might not be what she would choose to listen to, but props to First Lady Michelle Obama for knowing the words to Miley Cyrus’s best song and rocking out along with her daughters at the new administration’s Kids’ Inaugural Concert. With any luck, Obama Karaoke can be a multi-generational affair.
4. “Happy Birthday,” Kennedy Center, 2009: He’s no sexy Marilyn singing happy birthday to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who was undergoing treatment for cancer as he celebrated his 77th birthday. But it’s pretty funny to note that absent a podium, Obama has a tendency to conduct a pretend orchestra. Later that year, Obama apparently serenaded Armando Gomez, a Chicago businessman, with the same song at a Cinco De Mayo party at the White House.
5. Fiesta Latina, the White House, 2009: POTUS brought out some slightly more sophisticated dance moves when he was partnered up with Thalia later that fall at a celebration of Latin American music at the White House:
But seriously, someone’s gotta put that goofy head wiggle on lockdown before Obama’s ready for the bigtime:
6. “Move Your Body,” Alice Dean Middle School, Washington, DC, 2011: At least when FLOTUS pulls a out the dorky mom dance moves, she does it for a good cause. And there’s a limit to how dorky you can appear when you’re rocking out to a song that’s part of your partnership with Beyonce Knowles to get kids exercising.
7. “Let’s Stay Together,” The Apollo Theater in New York, 2012: Obama brought the Al Green a month before Valentine’s Day. Turns out speechifying has a tendency to turn you a little husky. Maybe Obama can take vocal cord care tips from Adele:
8. “Sweet Home Chicago,” Chicago, 2012: When he turns on his pipes, the President tends to choose soul or blues. It’s nice of his adopted hometown to provide him with a theme song that’s right in his wheelhouse.