Obama celebrates gospel songs as 'the songs of hope'

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Obama celebrates gospel songs as 'the songs of hope'
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: U.S. President Barack Obama applauds as introduces an evening of Gospel music in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2015, in Washington, DC. The entertainment, featuring music legends and contemporary artists is part of a 'In Performance at the White House' series. (Photo by Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: U.S. President Barack Obama claps along with the music during an evening of Gospel music in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2015, in Washington, DC. The entertainment, featuring music legends and contemporary artists is part of a 'In Performance at the White House' series. (Photo by Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Pastor Shirley Caesar sings along with the Morgan State University Choir during an evening of Gospel music in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2015, in Washington, DC. The entertainment, featuring music legends and contemporary artists is part of a 'In Performance at the White House' series. (Photo by Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks on stage with the Morgan State University Choir during an evening of Gospel music in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2015, in Washington, DC. The entertainment, featuring music legends and contemporary artists is part of a 'In Performance at the White House' series. (Photo by Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks at the 'The Gospel Tradition: In Performance at the White House' in the East Room of the White House on April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks at the 'The Gospel Tradition: In Performance at the White House' in the East Room of the White House on April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama takes his seat for the 'The Gospel Tradition: In Performance at the White House' in the East Room of the White House on April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks at the 'The Gospel Tradition: In Performance at the White House' in the East Room of the White House on April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, about gospel's role in American music before latest in the "In Performance at the White House" concert series. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, about gospel's role in American music before latest in the "In Performance at the White House" concert series. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, about gospel's role in American music before latest in the "In Performance at the White House" concert series. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks as he introduces an evening of Gospel music in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2015, in Washington, DC. The entertainment, featuring music legends and contemporary artists is part of a 'In Performance at the White House' series. (Photo by Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)
Pastor 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 on April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Pastor 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 on April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (5th L) speaks as musicians Michelle Williams (L), Lyle Lovett (2nd L), Darlene Love (3rd L), Rodney Crowell (4th L), and Rhiannon Giddens (R) listen during a workshop for students on 'The History of Gospel Music' April 14, 2015 at the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. The first lady hosted middle school, high school and college students from across the country to participate in the interactive workshop for an overview of the origins of gospel music, discussions on important artists and explore the unique elements of gospel that have inspired the sound of other American musical genres. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Robert Santelli (2nd L), Executive Director of The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, speaks as musicians Michelle Williams (L), Darlene Love (3rd L), and Rodney Crowell (R) listen during a workshop for students on 'The History of Gospel Music' April 14, 2015 at the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. U.S. first lady Michelle Obama hosted middle school, high school and college students from across the country to participate in the interactive workshop for an overview of the origins of gospel music, discussions on important artists and explore the unique elements of gospel that have inspired the sound of other American musical genres. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (R) speaks as Robert Santelli (L), Executive Director of The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, musicians Michelle Williams (2nd L), Lyle Lovett (3rd L), Darlene Love (4th L), and Rodney Crowell (5th L) listen during a workshop for students on 'The History of Gospel Music' April 14, 2015 at the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. The first lady hosted middle school, high school and college students from across the country to participate in the interactive workshop for an overview of the origins of gospel music, discussions on important artists and explore the unique elements of gospel that have inspired the sound of other American musical genres. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaks as musicians Rodney Crowell (L), and Rhiannon Giddens (R) listen during a workshop for students on 'The History of Gospel Music' April 14, 2015 at the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. The first lady hosted middle school, high school and college students from across the country to participate in the interactive workshop for an overview of the origins of gospel music, discussions on important artists and an exploration of the unique elements of gospel that have inspired the sound of other American musical genres. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (5th L) speaks as Robert Santelli (L), Executive Director of The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, musicians Michelle Williams (2nd L), Lyle Lovett (3rd L), Darlene Love (4th L), and Rhiannon Giddens (R) listen during a workshop for students on 'The History of Gospel Music' April 14, 2015 at the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC. The first lady hosted middle school, high school and college students from across the country to participate in the interactive workshop for an overview of the origins of gospel music, discussions on important artists and explore the unique elements of gospel that have inspired the sound of other American musical genres. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Kicking off a foot-stomping, hand-clapping celebration of gospel music, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that this particular genre of music had helped to shape America, beginning with the slave era and continuing on through the civil rights movement and beyond.

But "the heart" of gospel still remains true, although it has evolved over time, Obama said.

"It still has an unmatched power to strike the deepest chord in all of us, touching people of all faiths and of no faith," he said as he opened the latest in a series of White House concerts, this one celebrating the role of gospel music in American life.

Gospel songs are the "songs of hope," Obama added. "Hope that we might rise above our failures and disappointments. Hope that we might receive His redemption. Hope that, in lifting our voices together, we, too, might one day reach the Promised Land."

The normally staid White House East Room was transformed into a concert venue through the addition of red and purple lighting, a stage, piano, band members and backup singers. After brief opening remarks, Obama sat in the front row between his wife, Michelle, and Loretta Lynch, the federal prosecutor he nominated last year to be the country's first female attorney general. Lynch's confirmation vote by the full Senate has been delayed for months.

"I've got to say, you're having a pretty good night when T Bone Burnett and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, show up at your house to jam," Obama said. Shirley Caesar, Lyle Lovett and Darlene Love were among the other top recording artists who brought audience members to their feet.

Obama said gospel is rooted in the spirituals that were sung by slaves who, although forbidden to read or write, were allowed to sing.

"Songs were where their dreams took flight, where they expressed faith and love, as well as pain and fear and unimaginable loss," he said. "They sang songs of liberation, if not for their bodies in this world, then for their souls in the next."

The concert was the latest in the "In Performance at the White House" series of broadcasts by PBS. Tuesday's concert is scheduled to air June 26.

Earlier Tuesday, Michelle Obama said gospel music is a "ray of hope" that fueled her love of music in general.

"It's what helps connect us to God, to that higher power," the first lady said at a White House-arranged gospel music workshop for students from around the country. "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 recalled being exposed to gospel at an early age through relatives, including her mother, Marian, who sang in a church choir.

"There's nothing like hearing a choir sing an old gospel classic," Mrs. Obama said. "When you hear that music, it gets your feet tapping and your heart pumping."

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