Country Music Stars At The White House

This week, country performers Charley Pride, Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss led a music workshop for middle and high school students — at the White House.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

There's been enough drama and conflict, heartbreak coming out of the White House this week to fill a whole CD worth of country music. It just also happens to have been the week the White House held a celebration of country music, the latest in its ongoing series of evenings devoted to uniquely American music.

It was a night that made all the occasional travails of being a White House correspondent worthwhile, according to our one named source, NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: I've been covering politics for a long time now, but for a radio journalist whose career began - let's just say decades ago, with a brief stint as a country-Western disc jockey, it is a special joy to hear this sound coming from a room where I usually go for a bill-signing ceremony.

(Soundbite of music)

GONYEA: That's 26-time Grammy winner Alison Krauss playing for and sharing tips with a group of students who have packed into the White House State Dining Room on Tuesday afternoon.

Ms. ALISON KRAUSS (Musician): Yeah, I started taking classical violin lessons in kindergarten. My mom and dad put my brother and me in every possible program you could put us in, 'cause they said if we were going to be good at something, they wanted to make sure they found it. So you know, in the meantime we found out I was a terrible soccer player and not the best, you know, basketball player and things like that.

GONYEA: Krauss did, indeed, find the thing she is good at.

(Soundbite of fiddle music)

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

GONYEA: The afternoon workshop also featured another artist who sells a lot of records: singer-songwriter Brad Paisley. He told the students that he got his first guitar from his grandfather.

Mr. BRAD PAISLEY (Singer/Songwriter): He said a few things to me that stuck with me, and one was if you learn how to play this, you're never going to be lonely. You are always going to have something to fall back on. Some girl breaks your heart, write a song about it.

(Singing) And then I'd say I know it's tough, when you break up after seven months. And yeah, I know you really liked her and it just don't seem fair, but all I can say is pain like that is fast and it's rare.

GONYEA: The president didn't join in 'til the evening. He and the first lady attended a performance in the East Room that featured Krauss and Paisley, and also 71-year-old Charlie Pride, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Mr. Obama opened the program.

President BARACK OBAMA: Now, I know folks think I'm a city boy, but I do appreciate listening to country music because like all Americans I appreciate the broad and indelible impact that country has had on our nation.

GONYEA: When Charlie Pride took the stage, he worked through a short set of old hits.

(Soundbite of song, "Is Anybody Going to San Antone")

Mr. CHARLIE PRIDE (Musician): Anybody going to San Antone, or Phoenix, Arizona? Anyplace is all right as long as I can forget I've ever known her…

GONYEA: Charlie Pride was country music's first African-American superstar, though he has always simply described himself as an American singing American songs. He had played the White House before, but he says it's still special to perform there for the first black president.

Mr. PRIDE: I don't want to belabor it, but I do believe that everybody that's born on this planet is born for a certain thing. I believe there's a certain amount of divine purpose. I think 47 years ago, he was born to be where he is today.

GONYEA: Country singer Charlie Pride at the White House this week.

I'm Don Gonyea reporting.

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