Skip to main content

Newsroom

“A Celebration of American Creativity: In Performance at the White House” to Commemorate NEH's 50th Anniversary

Emmy Award-Nominated “In Performance at the White House” PBS series will feature performances by Usher, Queen Latifah, Smokey Robinson, MC Lyte, James Taylor, Carol Burnett and more

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded 63,000 grants over the last 50 years to preserve and sustain America’s cultural capital. On October 14, the PBS Emmy-nominated “In Performance at the White House” music series will celebrate the cultural resonance of art and literature in unique American musical forms. President and Mrs. Obama will host the October 14 all-star music tribute in the East Room of the White House.

“A Celebration of American Creativity: In Performance at the White House,” will feature readings and musical performances that commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act.  Signed into law on September 29, 1965, the act called for the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as separate, independent agencies, the culmination of a movement calling for the federal government to invest in culture.

Queen Latifah, Usher, Smokey Robinson, Carol Burnett, James Taylor and others will perform music and give readings that highlight the federally-supported contributions of art, literature, history and music to American culture and creativity. NEH show highlights include a reading of “Civil War Letters,” a poem featured in a landmark NEH-funded documentary film The Civil War by Ken Burns, and the work of E.L. Doctorow, a recipient of the 1998 National Humanities Medal.

The event will also mark the first hip-hop performance in the “In Performance at the White House” broadcast series. The song selections will draw from American-originated musical genres, including hip-hop, blues, and the American songbook. NEH has awarded grants for education seminars on the history of jazz and Memphis blues and preservation grants to protect early recordings of American music.

“The diverse and rich cultural traditions of our country will be on display in this remarkable concert,” said William D. Adams, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). “The NEH is very proud of its extensive efforts to make those traditions accessible to the American people, from our work in preserving important music recordings to our support for scholarship in the history of American music.”

“It is a great privilege to join the White House in honoring the importance of humanities and arts to our nation’s culture,” said Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA, the flagship public broadcaster in the nation’s capital that is co-producing the special. “Our long-running series ‘In Performance at the White House’ showcases American creativity as expressed through music for the American people.”

“This special evening, shared with the nation from the White House, will embody an aspect of President Johnson’s vision of a ‘Great Society’ that embraces cultural activity to advance our civilization,” noted Mark K. Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library. “We are proud of this opportunity to honor what President Johnson established fifty years ago and to celebrate the artistic creativity that has blossomed over the years due to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.”

The show was made possible in part with generous support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, in celebration of NEH and in honor of Senator Claiborne Pell, a co-sponsor of the founding legislation. Additional funding support came from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Spencer Foundation and Ford Foundation.

The morning of October 14, First Lady Michelle Obama will host “A Celebration of Song,” an education workshop for more than 60 middle school and high school students from the Washington region.  The event is produced by the GRAMMY Museum, a cultural institution that has received NEH funding to produce the Rockin’ the Kremlin documentary, also known as Free to Rock. Bob Santelli, executive director of the GRAMMY Museum will be joined by Smokey Robinson, Keb’ Mo’, MC Lyte, Esperanza Spalding, and Trombone Shorty to give the students an overview of American cultural influences on music over the years and teach them songwriting techniques.

What:                   “A Celebration of American Creativity: In Performance at the White House” PBS music special. President and Mrs. Obama will host the all-star music tribute celebrating the cultural resonance of art and literature in unique American musical forms.

When:                  October 14, 2015

Where:                 The East Room of the White House

Who:                    The evening includes performances by Usher, Buddy Guy, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Audra McDonald, Keb’ Mo’, Smokey Robinson, Trombone Shorty, Esperanza Spalding, James Taylor and Brian Stokes Mitchell, with special readings and remarks from Carol Burnett (program subject to change).

How to watch:      Taping of the hour long special will be on October 14, 2015, and available through a livestream (see below). The show will air on PBS January 8, 2016 at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings).

The concert, including President Obama’s remarks, will be available for press via the White House Press Corps pool feed and streamed live on whitehouse.gov/live and pbs.org/whitehouse.
 

To follow “In Performance at the White House” on Twitter, use hashtag #PBSipwh and tag @NEHgov

###

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Media Contacts: Paula Wasley at (202) 606-8424 or pwasley@neh.gov