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Memphis soul comes to the White House tonight

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Mavis Staples will sing at the White House this evening. (photo by Jalylah Burrell from Wikipedia, under Creative Commons License)

The White House will host a who’s-who of legendary soul musicians and modern stars Tuesday night in its latest “In Performance” concert.

This will be the tenth “In Performance at the White House” show, and will focus on Memphis Soul. Several artists from the classic Stax-Volt record label will be featured, most notably Mavis Staples, who sang classics such as “I’ll Take You There.” Guitarist Steve Cropper (who played for Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and pretty much everybody else on the Stax-Volt label), Sam Moore from Sam and Dave, “Knock on Wood” singer Eddie Floyd, and William Bell will also perform.

Justin Timberlake, the Alabama Shakes, harmonica virtuoso Charlie Musselwhite, Ben Harper, and Queen Latifah are also on the bill. The only performer that really makes me scratch my head, however, is Cyndi Lauper. (Yes, I know she released a star-studded blues album in 2010. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that the woman who sang “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is trying to remake herself as a blues shouter.)

Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs will be tonight’s bandleader. It will stream starting at 6:55 p.m. EST on the White House’s website, and will air on PBS stations nationwide April 16 at 8 p.m.

Past shows have paid tribute to Motown, blues, country, Latino music, Broadway showtunes, and music from the Civil Rights movement. During last year’s blues concert, President Obama even took a turn at the mic during the all-star jam on “Sweet Home Chicago.” But for me, the funniest moment from that show came during Gary Clark Jr.’s smoldering performance of “Catfish Blues,” when the camera caught Obama lost in the music, with his eyes closed, head bobbing, and mouthing the lyrics. That moment of presidential music geekery can be seen at the 1:30 point in the following video.

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FBI joins forces with Metallica to solve fan’s murder

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Composite sketches of the suspect in the Harrington case.

In one of the least-likely team-ups imaginable, heavy metal band Metallica is working with the FBI to solve a murder. The FBI today launched a multimedia campaign — including a video PSA with Metallica singer James Hetfield — to try to find the suspected killer of Virginia Tech student and aspiring teacher Morgan Harrington.

Harrington disappeared after attending an October 2009 Metallica concert at the University of Virginia. She was last seen trying to hitch a ride after the show, and her Pantera t-shirt was found nearly a month later, the FBI said. Harrington’s skeletal remains were found in a Virginia farm in January 2010.

The FBI says DNA evidence links Harrington’s suspected murderer to a sexual assault in Fairfax, Va., and released composite sketches of the alleged assaulter. A group called the Jefferson Area Crime Stoppers is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Harrington’s killer, and Metallica has kicked in another $50,000.

Hetfield’s PSA video is below, and after the jump find a recording of Metallica’s 1988 song “…And Justice For All,” which seems oddly appropriate for this story.

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Library of Congress to preserve Prince, Bo Diddley, ‘Rapper’s Delight’

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Prince (By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY)

The Library of Congress said today it will preserve everything from a tinny 1888 recording of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to Prince’s incendiary album “Purple Rain” as part of its latest slate of entries to the National Recording Registry.

The Library each year preserves 25 recordings it feels are “cultural, artistic and/or historical treasures for generations to come.” This year, a wide variety of recordings will be added, including:

  • Bo Diddley’s songs “Bo Diddley” and “I’m A Man,”
  • Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” recognized as the first hit rap song,
  • Booker T and the MG’s “Green Onions,”
  • Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,”
  • Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,”
  • Parliament’s album “Mothership Connection,”
  • A May 1977 concert by the Grateful Dead, and
  • Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.”

Thomas Edison recorded an anonymous employee singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for a talking doll. It may sound unnervingly spooky, but it is believed to be the first commercial children’s recording, and possibly the first time someone was paid to sing on record. The registry also has audio of former slaves telling their life stories, Leonard Bernstein’s debut performance with the New York Philharmonic, and journalist Edward R. Murrow.

The announced preservations of “I Feel Love” and “Green Onions” come not long after Summer and Donald “Duck” Dunn, bassist for Booker T and the MGs, passed away. The Associated Press reported that the Library had already chosen Summer’s song weeks before she died of cancer.

But I find the government’s enshrinement of the “Purple Rain” album somewhat ironic, given that its highly sexual song “Darling Nikki” led then-senator’s wife and future First Lady Tipper Gore to lead a campaign against smutty rock music.

To put you in the right frame of mind for your drive home, enjoy this 70s-tastic performance of “Rapper’s Delight.” Ho-tel, mo-tel, Holiday Inn!

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The hits keep coming from GSA’s Vegas conference

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The General Services Administration’s infamous Las Vegas conference is turning into a viral video bonanza. The clip of a GSA employee rapping about becoming commissioner and blowing cash exploded last Thursday, even reaching the Daily Show. And today, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., released another video in which GSA employees sing about going green to the tune of Patti LaBelle’s “Ready for a Miracle.”

This new one … well … let’s just say it’s no “When I’m Commissioner.” At this point, I’m not sure what’s worse — the government waste or the butchering of a gospel classic. And the awards-show banter following the song suggests it was made during office hours, which makes it look even worse. (“Was there anybody in Region 7 that wasn’t in that thing?” “If they didn’t work on Friday, chances are they weren’t in that video.”

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Huffington Post also uploaded a slew of videos from GSA’s 2010 conference Friday, including this disturbing one about a surly, smoking office clown that must be seen to be believed.

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UPDATE: GSA’s comment on the latest videos is the same as their last: “These videos reinforce once again the complete lack of judgment exhibited during the 2010 Western Regions Conference. Our agency continues to be appalled by this indefensible behavior, and we are taking every step possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

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GSA employee sings about wasting cash at cash-wasting Vegas conference

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ATF can't touch his GS-15 guns. (screencap and caption from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

UPDATED WITH GSA STATEMENT: This may be the last thing the beleaguered General Services Administration needed after its lavish conference-spending scandal. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee just released a prize-winning music video from that conference in which an employee raps about all the cool stuff he’s going to buy when he’s the boss. Which really doesn’t look good in retrospect, considering that infamous Las Vegas conference cost GSA $822,000 and brought down Administrator Martha Johnson and several other top officials.

The irony in the video runs a mile deep. After a languid ukelele intro laying out his dream of becoming commissioner of GSA’s Public Building Service, the employee — identified as Hank Terlaje — launches into rap-reggae song, bragging about buying field offices supplies and awarding bonuses. And then comes the most cringe-worthy line, considering what happened next because of this conference: “Donate my vacation, love to the nation/I’ll never be under OIG investigation.”

After the song ends, the video switches to the award ceremony, where Terlaje is jokingly named “commissioner for a day” — replacing former commissioner Bob Peck, who was also fired on Monday for his role in staging the conference.

And then, deputy commissioner of the Public Building Service David Foley delivers the video’s second-most cringe-worthy line when he tells Terlaje, “The hotel would like to talk to you about paying for the party that was held in the commissioner’s suite last night.” Which, again, doesn’t look very good, considering the conference actually did blow tens of thousands of dollars on catered food (not to mention the $3,200 for a mind reader, $6,300 for a commemorative coin set, and $75,000 for a training exercise that involved building a bicycle).

Of course, there’s nothing at all to suggest Terlaje had anything to do with that excessive spending. All he’s guilty of is singing a song with an infectious chorus — and I’d say that even if he didn’t give this publication a shout-out. (Although when Mr. Terlaje sang “Every time I close my eyes/I see my name on Federal Times,” I doubt this is how he imagined it happening.)

UPDATE: GSA just sent the following statement in response to the video:

This video is another example of the complete lack of judgment exhibited during the 2010 Western Regions Conference. Our agency continues to be appalled by this indefensible behavior, and we are taking every step possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

The full song and the award ceremony is below.

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Friday Fun: Saxophones, elephants and ‘AFGE and Me’

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The American Federation of Government Employees today dug up a gem of a recruitment video from its archives. Behold: “AFGE and Me.”

It’s got literally everything one could hope for. Saxophone riffs paired with footage of union members playing a cheap toy sax. Elephants and horse-riding Border Patrol agents. Hawaiian shirts. Astronauts. Little kids. And best of all, a maddeningly addictive earworm of a chorus.

It looks and sounds 80′s-tastic, but AFGE spokesman Tim Kauffman says it was actually made around 1994. So, who wants to make the inevitable dubstep remix?

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Obama, BB King sing ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ at White House blues night

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BB King performs at the White House, Feb. 21, 2012 (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Barack Obama may be angling for a second career in rhythm and blues (if this whole “leader-of-the-free-world” thing doesn’t pan out). Last night, he took the mic at the White House’s all-star blues tribute night and sang a chorus of “Sweet Home Chicago” with BB King.

The AP said that during the finale, Mick Jagger held the mic out “almost by way of command,” and Obama evidently couldn’t resist. Blues guitarist Buddy Guy also pushed Obama by pointing out that he sang a line from “Let’s Stay Together” last month at an Apollo Theater fundraiser, and said, “You gotta keep it up.”

Besides King, Guy and Jagger, the White House hosted New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty, singers Shemekia Copeland and Susan Tedeschi, and guitarists Jeff Beck, Keb Mo, Gary Clark Jr., Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs was the bandleader.

Check out some clips — including Obama’s turn in the spotlight — below. The entire concert will be aired on PBS Feb. 27.

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Obama campaign playlist has classic soul, indie rock and … Hootie?

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Maybe they're just jonesing for Burger King's Tender Crisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch.

Politico’s Mike Allen scores a scoop today on the Obama campaign’s playlist — music to be played at rallies and other reelection events. Most of it would make a really good Spotify playlist*, and it contains a mix of classic soul music (including, of course, “Let’s Stay Together”) and indie-ish rock such as Arcade Fire, Wilco and Florence + the Machine.

But I heard a record scratch sound in my head when I came across not one, but two songs by Darius Rucker. Really? Hootie? (We’ll see if Obama blames that one on Axelrod.)

After the jump, you can find the full list and a few of the choicer cuts.

* EDIT: I’ll be danged, it is a Spotify playlist.

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Defense employee raps in Pizza Hut Super Bowl ad

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Keep an eye on the Super Bowl ads this Sunday, feds, because you might see one of your own. The Washington Post reports that David Johnson, a switchboard operator at the Defense Department, will be rapping about the joys of Pizza Hut pies in the company’s 30-second spot.

Johnson won Pizza Hut’s Top This! contest with a rap he wrote. Pizza Hut then flew him first-class to Santa Monica to record it over a track built from samples of the company’s old “makin’ it great!” jingle. I think my favorite line is, “It’s not about the Benjamins/Just ten George Washingtons” — which one do you like?

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And here’s a short “making of” video showing Johnson recording in the studio and on the soundstage filming the ad.

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Barack Obama: Live at the Apollo

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(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama last night delivered an unexpected surprise during a fundraiser at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater: A short rendition of the soul classic “Let’s Stay Together.” The Rev. Al Green, who originally recorded the song in 1971, was in the crowd, and Obama clearly relished the chance to tease him. “Don’t worry, Rev.,” he said. “I cannot sing like you. I just wanted to show my appreciation.”

Obama also noted that “The Sandman did not come out” and sweep him off the stage, the way the late Howard “Sandman” Sims disposed of Apollo acts that bombed. But even if the Sandman were still alive, I doubt he’d want to cross the Secret Service agents to give Obama the hook.

That one line he sang wasn’t bad, and the crowd of 1,400 clearly loved it. But if Obama really wanted to bring the house down, he’d have pulled out James Brown’s cape routine during “Please, Please, Please,” the way the Godfather of Soul did while recording 1968′s “Live at the Apollo: Vol. II.”

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