Politics makes strange bedfellows, but music makes even stranger ones- especially if the musicians in question are polar opposites politically. Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin met former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Philadelphia Orchestra’s home turf of the Mann Center on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. The gala event raised $582,000 to benefit arts education and the Mann Center itself. Franklin appears to have suggested the idea when she learned that Rice was a trained pianist. The Washington Post reports Rice has previously performed with Yo-Yo Ma and performed Brahms before the Queen of England.
According to the Washington Post, songs performed included “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and a duet of “The Way We Were” sung with Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers. But the classics were reviewed as well. Franklin has classical interests couched in 10 years of working with a soprano. Franklin reportedly has 10 arias including “Che faro” from Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” performed on Tuesday night.
Though generally warmly received, Rice’s connection with the Bush Administration likely was the cause of a few boos drawn during her first stage appearance, the New York Times reports. Both the New York Times and Washington Post gave Rice complimentary reviews, though noting that she performed ably for someone who was not a professional. Generally, it was felt she was fairly rote without a lot of feeling, but, if the nearly 8,000 audience members were not treated to any real virtuoso performance ,they weren’t disappointed by the former political appointee returned to academia.
Entertainers and politicians aren’t strangers, to be certain, and the Washington Post lists a number of political musical moments by way of example. Some musicians and musical groups, such as Rage Against the Machine; Public Enemy; Dead Kennedys; Bob Dylan; and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are well known for inserting a political message into their music. Some politicians are themselves musicians, as Condi Rice demonstrated Tuesday; Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is a noted songwriter, and former President Bill Clinton’s sax performance on Arsenio Hall are just a few examples. But how often do musicians and politicians work closely together on a project?
Perhaps concerned with damaging their rock-star credibility, some musicians avoid politics all together. However, one star who hasn’t over the years is Irish rocker Bono of U2. Politicians around the globe and from every political stripe, ranging from former President George W. Bush to Brazilian President Lula da Silva, have vied for photo opportunities with the politically active musician, and, on more than one occasion, Bono has taken officials like former US Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill out of their offices and out into the field, as noted in Wikipedia.
While some vapid “stars” may pay lip-service to activism ,and some politicians claim to be working to make the world a better place, there’s certainly no reason celebrity and power can’t convene once in awhile to problem-solve and to bring about a tangible effort to better living conditions and quality of life for those less privileged. Politicians and musicians who take a risk through performance and activism earn our praise – even those who probably shouldn’t quit their day job just yet.
Anne Midgette, “Condoleezza Rice, Aretha Franklin: A Philadelphia show of a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T” Washington Post
Steve Smith, “A Former Secretary of State Has an Audience With the Queen” New York Times
Matt DeLong, “Politicians’ best musical moments, from Clinton to Condi” Washington Post