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Aretha Franklin Sang “Purple Rain” at the White House

If you’re not a jazzhead, you may have missed last Friday’s celebration of International Jazz Day. Each year the event takes place in one of the world’s many jazz hubs. Osaka, Istanbul, and Paris have all played host in the past. This year, though, the celebration—as President Obama stated when he kicked off the evening—came “back home.”

The ceremony was held in the White House. In one part of his opening speech, Obama recounted the story of Dizzy Gillespie’s 1964 presidential run. His first executive order as president, he said, would be to change the name of the White House to the “Blues House.” Obama committed to making that a reality.

Morgan Freeman hosted International Jazz Day, adding an extra layer of vocal velvet to a night that had plenty of it. Other guests included jazz legends like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, as well as revered vocalists like Sting, Esperanza Spalding, and—the greatest voice of them all—Ms. Aretha Franklin.

Franklin opened the night with a soulful rendition of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.” Later (at the 74-minute mark), she returned to the stage to sing Prince’s “Purple Rain.” It was a brief rendition, only lasting 45 seconds, but its inclusion is telling of Prince’s towering legacy—even amongst some of the most important American musicians of all-time. Franklin acknowledged as much in an interview with MSNBC’s Brian Williams following the musician’s death—as Rolling Stone remembers. “He was definitely an original and a one-of-a-kind. There was truly only one Prince,” she said. “He put his stamp [on his sound]. Prince is gone but his music lives on.”

As Obama said in his elegant commencement, jazz has “humble origins as the music of the black working class” and grew to become “America’s most significant artistic contribution to the world.” Prince’s music, too, is rooted in those origins, and it will be forever remembered as integral to the American musical experience.

Image Credit: International Jazz Day

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