Shirley Caesar and the Morgan State University Choir perform during “The Gospel Tradition: In Performance at the White House” in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Musical heavy-hitters were “In Performance at the White House” as part of a celebration of gospel music on April 14.

Pastor Shirley Caesar, Darlene Love, Rhiannon Giddens, Rance Allen, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Tamela Mann, Lyle Lovett and the Morgan State University Choir were among the performers who participated in the latest of a series of concerts in the White House’s East Room.

“Tonight, we continue one of my favorite traditions here at the White House by celebrating the music that has helped to shape our nation,” President Barack Obama said in remarks at the event. “Over the years, we’ve had the quintessential sounds of America fill this room, from jazz to Motown, to blues, to country.  So it is fitting that, tonight, we honor the music that influenced all those genres—gospel.”

Earlier that day, Michelle Obama and some of the gospel artists addressed students during a workshop on the history of gospel music that was arranged by the White House along with the Grammy Museum.


First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks during the “The History of Gospel” PBS student workshop in the State Dining Room of the White House, April 14, 2015. Stage participants seated from left are Darlene Love, Rodney Crowell and Rhiannon Giddens. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

The first lady said she was “thrilled” that they were finally focusing on gospel, citing the important role it has played in U.S. history.

“It really has—from the spirituals sung by slaves to the anthems that became the soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement, and to the hymns that millions of Americans sing every single day in churches all across the country,” she said.

Obama said that, beyond its historical importance, gospel music has personal significance for her and many around the world. Gospel was her introduction to music and is what “fuels my love of music, in general,” she said.

“And I know that for many folks across the country and around the world, there’s nothing like hearing a choir sing an old gospel classic.  When you hear that music, it gets your feet tapping and your heart pumping,” she said. “It’s what helps connect us to God, to that Higher Power.”

“And for so many, when times are dark and when you’re struggling, gospel music is that ray of hope and it gives you that strength,” she added.