WASHINGTON (AP) — Sometimes there are downsides to being president: You can’t just go for a walk, says Barack Obama.
Then there are the times that more than make up for all those frustrations — like Tuesday night, when Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and other musical giants came by the house to belt out the blues.
“I guess things even out a little bit,” Obama joked at the start of a rollicking East Room concert electrified by Jagger and featuring a musical A-list.
Legends and up-and-comers turned the East Room into an intimate blues club for a concert celebrating the rich history of the music and its lasting impact on American music.
“This music speaks to something universal,” Obama declared. “The blues reminds us that we’ve been through tougher times before.”
“Their music teaches us that when we find ourselves at a crossroads, we don’t shy away from our problems, we own them, we face up to them, we deal with them, we sing about them,” he said. “We turn them into art.”
King, 86, arrived in a wheelchair but rose tall to kick off the night with a rollicking rendition of “Let the Good Times Roll,” quickly joined by other members of the ensemble. And he followed with “The Thrill is Gone.”
From there, Obama and his wife, Michelle, were swaying in their seats and singing along to an all-hits playlist including “St. James Infirmary” and “Let Me Love You.”
Beck slowed things down with an instrumental “Brush With the Blues,” as anticipation built for the arrival of Jagger, who did not disappoint.
The longtime Rolling Stones frontman delivered on “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and then teamed up with Beck on “Commit a Crime.” Jagger got the president and his wife up out of their seats, swaying and clapping to the music.
Jagger told the crowd he’d been in love with the blues since he was first introduced to the sound when he was about 12 years old. He recalled the first time he played the blues for American greats including King, whom he said must have thought the young Brits “were from Mars or something.” But they were generous, Jagger recalled, and “they passed on their tips and gave us all their help.”
Then it was time to pick up the pace with “Miss You,” performed with Shemekia Copeland and Susan Tedeschi.
In advance of the concert, Jagger tweeted that Obama had popped in during a rehearsal and “seemed really relaxed and happy!”
Grammy-winner Keb Mo, for his part, joked during a rehearsal break that Obama himself would perform, and there could even be a record in the works. He joked that Obama’s record would be called, “After the second term, now I can finally get my groove on.”
The lineup for Tuesday’s concert spanned multiple generations, from legends like King and Buddy Guy to young faces such as 26-year-old Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Gary Clark Jr., whose style blends hip hop, contemporary soul and indie rock. Also performing were Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, with actress Taraji P. Henson as the program host and Booker T. Jones as music director and band leader.
Andrews said before the concert he got a chill just hearing King play a few notes during rehearsal. He added that he was hoping to learn something — and maybe even borrow a few moves — from the veterans in the group.
Even in rehearsal, Andrews said, Jagger “was in character right away like he was playing in a stadium — all of the moves and things. I’m like, I’m going to steal some of those.”
At an afternoon blues workshop for middle school and high school students visiting the White House, Mrs. Obama declared, “Today, we’ve got the blues — but in a very good way.” She called the blues an “art form that stirs our souls, and it helps us rise above all our struggles.”
The blues concert will be part of the “In Performance at the White House” series that airs on PBS. This one, designed to recognize Black History Month, will be broadcast on Monday on PBS stations and aired later on American Forces Network.