June 25th, 2007 07:37 EST
White House Celebrates Black Music
Washington -- The White House celebrated Black Music Month with an afternoon concert that included jazz, rhythm and blues (R&B) and classical-rap fusion music. At one point, the 220 guests, many of them prominent persons in Washington, stood up from gold-painted chairs to clap, tap and even dance.
President Bush called it his “chance to listen to some good music,” emphasizing the word good, which caused laughter. His introductory remarks began the June 22 event in the East Room on a light-hearted note, setting it apart from the more formal public gatherings often held there.
Describing the music of violinists Tourie and Damien Escobar as “fusion that bridges classical, R&B and rap,” Bush looked up from his notes and said, with a look of wonder, “I’m looking forward to it.”
The Escobar brothers, who call themselves “Nuttin’ But Stringz,” studied classical music in New York as children but today play their violins over background music that sounds one minute like a melodic New Age organ track and the next like hip-hop dance music. They wear dazzling jewelry and untucked shirts, even at the White House, and play their violins as if they are Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones -- rocking back and forth, thumping their feet on the stage, circling each other and even playing while lying down.
Before the violinists, Kem Owens, who hails from Detroit and was influenced by Motown music, sang R&B love songs, accompanied by his seven-member band. The band’s version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” got all heads bobbing and all feet tapping, including the president’s. Owens’ percussionist stole the show, though, with the range of chimes, bird calls and other percussive wonders he brought into play during the song “Can’t Stop Loving You.”
Owens, who was addicted to alcohol and drugs and lived on the streets for a time as a young man, said he especially had been moved by a visit he paid the day before to injured soldiers at Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “Young men -- 19, 20, 21 -- who have given so much,” he said.
Karina Pasian, a 15-year-old child of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, played the piano and sang “Misty” and then stood up and belted out her original song, called “Can’t Bring Me Down,” which she dedicated to troops in Iraq.
Black musicians “define us as a nation,” said Rachel Smith, Miss USA 2007, who emceed the concert. “They look to the past and the future, to R&B, pop, soul and hip hop.”
Video of a Nuttin’ But Stringz performance is available on the duo’s Web site.
Samples of Kem Owens’ songs are on an MP3 Web site.
Samples of Karina Pasian songs are on a MySpace music Web page.