Barack Obama’s entire presidency has a soundtrack, according to Joshua DuBois, the former head of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships for the executive office.
DuBois, who Time magazine referred to as Obama’s “pastor-in-chief,” delivered his lecture “Human Dignity, Rage and Grace After Charleston” Wednesday from the Hall of Philosophy.
Dividing Obama’s presidency into three distinct genres of music, DuBois said it was his impromptu rendition of “Amazing Grace” during the funeral for the victims of the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting that defines his presidency.
“Faith and art and politics collided on that Charleston stage with an intensity that, at that moment, shook the earth,” DuBois said. “But they’ve collided for years throughout this presidency, for years in our country, and we’re all still very curious about how the chords will finally resolve.“
DuBois said Obama’s presidency had a hip-hop age, a jazz age and a blues age.
The president’s meteoric rise from the Senate to the Oval Office represents the hip-hop age, DuBois said. Just like how hip-hop, a stark contrast to the era’s popular music, became immensely popular in a short period of time, breaking the mold for what radio hits had sounded like for decades, so did Obama reshape how a politician looks and acts.
Likewise, it was during the hip-hop age that performers wrote songs for his campaign such as “Yes We Can,” a musical representation of Obama’s iconic speech by a host of famous artists, or Young Jeezy’s “My President is Black,” after his eventual 2008 win.
After the hip-hop age came the jazz age, in which everything ran smoothly for the president. As DuBois said, there came elements of interplay and improvisation in government, just like in jazz.
“There was jazz in the operation of government and of our politics as well,” DuBois said. “I saw it in the relationship between the president and Attorney General Eric Holder: One man on the bass, one on the sax; one setting the overall pace and one jumping out there at times taking necessary risks.”
The third and final movement in the president’s soundtrack came in today’s era of the blues. Citing such national tragedies as the Gulf Coast oil spill, mass shootings, and the recent deaths of unarmed black citizens in high-profile cases all around the country, he said America is riding out the somber notes of a blues song.
DuBois did say, however, that Obama is working to disrupt these hard times. He mentioned Obama’s recent usage of a racial epithet on the radio to start a conversation about race, and his words in solidarity of young black men in prison as examples of how the president is working to fix this country, and the artistry of his tactic.
“That’s a jarring thing for the president of the United States to say,” DuBois said. “That message of empathy and redemption, the disruption of quote-unquote normal presidential patterns, that’s his form of artistry.”
Keeping his lecture short and to the point, DuBois shed light on why he feels Obama’s eulogy in Charleston was the defining moment of his tenure. He said Obama’s actions as of late will hopefully cause change in the near future as people come to realize the gravity of America’s current racial divide.
“Nine black folks were killed at their Bible study in 2015 because they were black,” DuBois said. “The profundity of that fact is lost on far too many.”