Common At The White House: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

Common At The White House: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

October 4, 2016 by BOB BOILEN • We’ve never done a Tiny Desk Concert that wasn’t behind my desk at NPR. But when the White House called and said they were putting on an event called South by South Lawn, a day-long festival filled with innovators and creators from the worlds of technology and art, including music, we jumped at the chance to get involved. We chose Common as the performer and the White House library as the space.

This Tiny Desk Concert was a convergence of art and soul, mixing politics with heart. Common’s choice of songs dealt with incarceration as the new slavery, imagined a time where women rule the world and honored the man he looked up to all his life, his father. For this occasion Common put together a special six-piece band of close friends that includes the great Robert Glasper, with his eloquent and delicate touch, on keyboards and Derrick Hodge, whose music spans from hip-hop to folk and has made a big imprint on the world of jazz, on bass. Common also asked his longtime friend and collaborator Bilal to sing on two songs. The performance includes three brand new songs, along with one classic, “I Used To Love H.E.R.”

Common was born on Chicago’s South Side and grew up in President Obama’s city. His rap career began in the early 1990s, back when he was known as Common Sense, and he’s always taken on big ideas without easy answers in his songs, from abortion to social justice to the legacy of hip-hop itself. 25 years later, morality and responsibility continue to play significant roles in his songs. In 2015, he won an Academy Award alongside the singer John Legend for their song “Glory” from the movie Selma.

Common told us that he’d been invited to the White House many times before, including by Michelle Obama for a poetry reading back in 2011, but he was thrilled by the prospect of performing his music during Barack Obama’s final months as president. One look at this Tiny Desk Concert and you’ll see that thrill on his face and hear it throughout this magnificent performance on this very special day.

Common will release his 11th studio album, Black America Again, in November.

Set List:
“I Used To Love H.E.R.”
“Letter To The Free”
“The Day The Women Took Over”
“Little Chicago Boy”

Producers: Bob Boilen, Abby O’Neill, Niki Walker; Directors: Mito Habe-Evans, Niki Walker; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, Kevin Wait; Videographers: Niki Walker, Mito Habe-Evans, Nick Michael, Cameron Robert, Nikki Boliaux; Animator: CJ Riculan; Supervising Producer: Jessica Goldstein; Executive Producer: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Becky Harlan/NPR.

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Comment (38)

  1. Common is the most underrated storyteller of our genre. Jay, Nas, Big & Pac's props' are well deserved – but you cannot leave out Common. Not only a great storyteller – one of the greatest orators of our time. And Bilal's vocals? Infectiously haunting. With a killer band holding their own – bassist Derick Hodge (who I had the pleasure of meeting after Afropunk this year), Robert Glasper on keys, Keyon Harold on coronet, Kareem Riggins on drums/percussion, and Elena, OH Elena! – she is a precious songbird on flute and vocals. Anyone that doesn't enjoy this NPR concert needs to have their "musical pulse" checked. Loved how Common referenced the 13th Ammendent by pointing it out in the Presidential library. Salute to all involved in this segment.

  2. B4 Trump 🙂 otherwise it would be Garth Crooks or Springsteen.. You can see Common is trying to convey to the staff at the Whitehouse well done to all there

  3. the historical relevance this should have that our sitting president had this concert in the white house is lost today. Obama brought us so many steps beyond where we are today and people in our country squandered that blessing

  4. now this is a class act no one does it like doctor common oh my GOD has really blessed him may he continue to empower us and this generation we all love you common thank you for all your knowledge that's shared with the world

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