“A healthy civic culture has connections, it inspires people and it helps people look at issues through someone else’s perspective,” said Anne Filipic, COO and Interim CPO of the Obama Foundation. “In so many ways that’s what art, music and culture are all about. What are the different platforms that we can build upon to really connect with people? Certainly music and art are a critical part of that.”
President Obama’s opening remarks, Prince Harry’s appearance and Michelle Obama’s Q&A were among the most anticipated moments, but music stole the spotlight on several occasions.
Below, the top musical moments at the Obama Foundation Summit:
Viva La Vida!
Composed of five musicians between the ages of 12 and 17-years-old, the People’s Music School opened the summit with an instrumental version of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.” “We had less than 2 days to learn the song,” 12-year-old cellist Julia Soto told Billboard. “I was so nervous backstage before we played that President Obama and the First Lady actually came up to me and helped me calm down. It was so cool!” The school was founded 40 years ago, growing to teach over 700 underserved students a year from all across Chicago.
“This experience taught me that I am part of something bigger than myself,” Soto added. “I am part of a movement that is happening to make the future better, to make the world a better place.”
Young (leader) Paris
After being part of a breakout session at the summit, Billboard caught up with rapper and artist Young Paris about pressing issues that hit close to home. “What I’ve really been trying to do with my project and my ways of engagement is showing people a different perspective of Africa and how dope it is and how educational it is and how historic it is,” said the Roc Nation signee, adding that musicians should use their platform for activism work. “Musicians are influencers and we can get people activated. When you see someone you’re inspired by do something, you want to engage and be involved.”
Common + Lin-Manuel Miranda
A fan favorite moment from day two was when artists Common and Lin-Manuel Miranda were onstage for a discussion regarding art and activism. “We have to be careful. This will become a rap concert if we don’t stay on topic,” the Hamilton creator warned at the start of the conversation. Both artists went on to talk about using their voice and platform to raise awareness about social injustices.
Miranda spoke about rappers inspiring Hamilton characters, noting that Common inspired George Washington’s character, while also talking about his efforts to help Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. “Art is how we enter the world, that’s our way in … I wanted to fill the silence with music and so I started writing it [“Almost Like Praying”],” Miranda says.
For Common, the focus was on making his voice heard when it comes to racial injustice and mass incarceration. “If I’m rapping about mass incarceration, I gotta do something. I gotta be on the frontline doing something.”
Of course, the discussion ended with a rap battle.
The Obamas and Chance
“My name is Chance the Rapper. I’m actually from here,” said the Grammy-winning artist who curated the concert that closed the Obama Foundation Summit. He was joined by Michelle Obama and the 44 president of the United States, Barack Obama, who gushed about Chance’s activism efforts and accomplishments. “My baby. So proud of you,” Mrs. Obama said to a roaring Chicago crowd. “I want to thank Chance for being a great representative of this city. My baby brother is so talented, so smart and socially focused and I’m so proud for the father and the man that you are.”
President Obama joined the two onstage echoing the sentiment. “He understands where he comes from,” Obama said. “He just gives back, he’s generous.”
The two-day summit culminated in the aforementioned star-studded concert opened by Andra Day. She sang her powerful anthem “Rise Up,” dedicating it to all the world changers in the audience. “You are the difference makers, and this is dedicated to you tonight,” Day said.
Then, it was Gloria Estefan’s turn to take the stage. Her classics “Conga” and “Mi Tierra” were enough to get the party started. Performances by Nas, Brandi Carlile and The National followed Estefan’s fiesta.
Lil Chano & friends
Closing on a high note, Chance took the stage to perform songs like “Blessings,” “No Problem,” “Summer Friends” and “First World Problems.”
He also brought out a couple of friends for surprise collaborations.
Francis and the Lights performed “May I Have This Dance,” while also wowing fans with a coordinated dance with Chance.
If that wasn’t enough, Lin-Manuel then joined the two onstage for an epic performance of the Hamilton song “Dear Theodosia".