The Obamas celebrated Black History Month and the historic role Motown Records played in American music with a concert and workshop Thursday at the White House. The events were capped by the president and wife Michelle showing some moves during the finale, "Dancing in the Streets."
The Motown tribute was the latest in the Obama White House's music series, with the East Room hosting Motown artists and performers honoring the company Berry Gordy founded in Detroit in 1960.
Gordy was at the show, along with the Obamas' youngest daughter, Sasha, Mrs. Obama's mother, Marion Robinson, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, all seated in the front row.
The performers included Natasha Bedingfield, Sheryl Crow, Jamie Foxx, Gloriana, Nick Jonas, Ledisi, John Legend, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Seal, Jordin Sparks, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder -- one of the first lady's favorites. Other Motown stars were in the audience, including Martha Reeves, a former Detroit City councilwoman (in an earlier part of her career, of course, she headlined Martha and the Vandellas).
The Detroit News
put it this way: "During the finale, Reeves jumped up, joined the crowd and grabbed a mike and had an extended solo of the song -- 'Dancing in the Street' -- that helped make Reeves and the Vandellas famous."
The show opened with a medley of Motown hits from Foxx, Seal, Jonas and Legend, mixing it up with "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Get Ready" and "I Can't Get Next to You."
Sparks performed the Supremes' classic "Stop! In the Name of Love."
The president told the audience of about 200 that Motown tunes helped break down racial barriers in the U.S.
"Along the way, songs like 'Dancing in the Streets' and 'What's Going On' became the soundtrack of the civil rights era. Black artists began soaring to the top of the pop charts for the first time. And at concerts in the South, Motown groups literally brought people together –- insisting that the ropes traditionally used to separate black and white audience members be taken down," Obama said.
"So, today, more than 50 years later, that's the Motown legacy. Born at a time of so much struggle, so much strife, it taught us that what unites us will always be stronger than what divides us. And in the decades since, those catchy beats and simple chords have influenced generations of musicians, from Sheryl Crow to the Jonas Brothers."
Earlier in the day, Mrs. Obama hosted a music workshop spotlighting the Motown sound, with about 120 high school students from Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Los Angeles.
The Motown rags-to-riches story should inspire them, Mrs. Obama said.
"But the thing that I want you all to remember is that nobody's name is printed on the Billboard Top 10 at birth. Nobody is born into this. Neither Mr. Gordy nor Smokey Robinson were born into greatness or wealth. Diana Ross grew up in a housing project. And John Legend is the son of a seamstress and a factory worker. And they are good people.
"But they've shown us that with enough hard work and a willingness to take some risks, anyone can make it. And this isn't just true for careers in entertainment or sports. The Motown story is really a metaphor for life."