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Bettye LaVette and the Soul of Barack Obama

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Arts, music, soul, Barack Obama, inauguration, Bettye Lavette, the Who, Sam Cooke,

For a guy who listens to John Coltrane, Barack Obama has an inaugural celebration musical lineup that’s playing it pretty safe: You’ve got your Beyonce, your Bono, your Boss. But I suppose we ought to cut him some slack. For one thing, it’s not like the guy booked it personally. He’s got a few other things to think about. Also, if you think about it, the sprawling, middle-of-the-road bill is in keeping with his whole big-tent approach. He’s reaching out to rural America with Garth Brooks, boomers with James Taylor, the hip-hop nation with Mary J. Blige. It’s going to be a party to which everyone is invited. (I guess that’s why 800,000 people are showing up.)

But there’s one performance recently added to Sunday's bill that I’m really keyed about : Soul singer Bettye LaVette will perform Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Just watch this clip in which LaVette sings “Love Reign O’er Me” at last month’s Who tribute at Kennedy Center Honors to understand why I think her performance might be the Barackathon’s emotional showstopper. You don’t even have to know, let alone revere, the original version to be swept up in her soul-searing rendition: