Music, Observations.

American Soul

Aretha Franklin, as ageless as Tony Bennett, recently sang at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Carole King, reprising the song Carole wrote for her, A Natural Woman, with President and Michelle Obama in attendance. The performance was glorious, and drew tears from the President, as well as from myself as I watched and listened to it later on video.

David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, was also in attendance, and later asked President Obama how he felt about Aretha’s performance., to which Obama replied:

The President bares his American soul: His passion and hope for America is expressed here in the context of black music and the too-often harsh experiences that created it. That the worst of those experiences were themselves American provoke responses: musically, culturally and politically. Obama’s response is gentle and candid, thoughtful and hopeful, eloquent and poised, forgiving without condescension.

-PD-USGOV, U.S. Department of State

Secretary Kerry Greets 2015 Kennedy Center Honors Recipient Carole King. Attrib: U.S. Department of State, PD-USGOV.


Carole King’s long time musical collaboration with artists of every color is itself a model for the citizens of America. That night, as Aretha sang to Carole King, to President Obama and Michelle, and to America, Carole King understood the gift she was being given and noted later of Obama: ‘The cool cat wept. I loved that.’

My wife Cindy has sung Gospel and R & B all of her life, and passed the love of that music on to me and our sons: Our baby boys danced to Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin as Mom sang along. She also instilled in our children a respect for the hardships that underlay the music, and the inspiration it provides – that even under slavery, and in the face of persistent institutionalized racism, hope for the best of America has not been lost.

All of us have the ordinary reflex to deflect criticism, and rather than acknowledge what we have contributed to a problem, instead attack critics for their own foibles. President Obama leads us to look at both the good and the bad, and to focus on fixing those problems together. Our American history of subjugation and of domestic terrorism of our own citizens is not just the past, to be considered or ignored as if it were a hoary and now irrelevant tale, but continues to color the present. Some of the past and present hardships for many of our citizens have been borne of political inequalities and insular majoritarian attitudes which belie the promised freedoms of the American ideal.

America is flawed, as is every individual that it encompasses. To acknowledge these flaws is a requisite step along the path that makes life better for all of our citizens, a step in opening our hearts to all American souls.

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