With six months to go before the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama’s surging campaign has attracted a remarkable number of big-name musical supporters. Over the past several weeks, dozens of top artists – including the Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder, Ludacris, Fall Out Boy, the Arcade Fire‘s Win Butler and Usher – have declared their support for the Illinois senator, playing fund-raisers and appearing at rallies. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s Democratic campaign for president in 2004 and advised John Edwards until he quit the race in January. “Part of it is to have so much energy in the country moving toward change, and Obama becoming the standard-bearer of that. It’s attracted a lot of musicians – more than I’ve ever seen coming out in support of a candidate.”
Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz organized a January 22nd fundraiser at his Chicago club, Lakeview Broadcasting Company, after being inspired by Obama’s performance in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. “It was at that point where I thought, ‘Why would I not put everything that I had behind this?'” he says. “Otherwise, come November, I could be cursing myself under my breath and going, ‘This is what you could have done.'”
Will.i.am declared his support with his “Yes We Can” video, in which he edited an Obama speech to music – with appearances by Common, Scarlett Johansson, Herbie Hancock, John Legend and others. It appeared online on the eve of the February 5th Super Tuesday primaries, and it got 13 million YouTube views by mid-February. “I just thought it was a little thing we’d do, and it might be a little circulation,” Legend says. “I was completely surprised by how popular the video became. The number of views it’s gotten has been incredible.”
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Butler declared on his blog that Obama was the “first candidate in my lifetime to strip some of this bullshit away, and I just hope we don’t blow this chance.” Echoing that sentiment, on February 4th the Grateful Dead reunited for the first time in four years to play a San Francisco fund-raiser. Comparing Obama to Robert F. Kennedy, bassist Phil Lesh told Rolling Stone backstage, “I think Hillary would make a good president, but Obama is my man.”
Other Obama supporters at rallies and fund-raisers have included Ne-Yo, Bright Eyes, My Morning Jacket‘s Jim James and Pearl Jam (who recorded a new song, “Rock Around Barack”). But Obama isn’t the only major candidate to receive endorsements from musicians: Madonna, 50 Cent, Jon Bon Jovi and many others have thrown their weight behind Hillary Clinton. (Republican front-runner John McCain’s celebrity support includes California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone; when the U.S. senator from Arizona aired John Mellencamp‘s “Our Country” at a campaign rally, the politically liberal singer demanded that he stop using the song.)
For years, Stevie Wonder has supported Democratic candidates and is a friend of the Clintons, having appeared at several White House functions during the Clinton administration. But Wonder’s dream Democratic ticket is Obama for president with Hillary as the Illinois senator’s running mate. “We need the two best to handle the business of getting America straight so we can get the world straight – that’s how I see it,” says Wonder, who appeared at a February 3rd Obama rally in Los Angeles. “We can’t play around with this thing. We have fallen down as a nation, and it’s time for us to get up. And I believe that can happen with Barack Obama.”
This story is from the March 6th, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone.