President Barack Obama wowed an audience at a fundraiser at the Apollo Theater in New York back in January by singing the opening line from Al Green’s classic, “Let’s Stay Together.” A clip from the event immediately went viral, and it was soon released as a free ringtone on the Obama 2012 campaign site. As it turns out, singing a bit of the tune was very much an impromptu decision.
“It was my fifth event of the day,” the president tells Rolling Stone in a new cover story. “It’s about 10:30 at night, and we go up to the Apollo. I wanted to hear Al Green. The guys who were working the soundboard in the back, a couple of real good guys, they say, ‘Oh, man, you missed the Reverend, but he was terrific, he was in rare form.’ So I was frustrated by that. Since I was on my fifth event and have been yakking away for several hours on all kinds of policy stuff, I just kind of broke into a rendition of ‘Let’s Stay Together.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, so the president, you can sing, man. You should do that onstage.’
“[Senior advisor] Valerie Jarrett was with us, and she was like [whispers, making a slashing motion across his throat], ‘No, no. . . .,” Obama recalls. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. You don’t think I can do that onstage?’ I looked at [press secretary] Jay Carney, and he was tired too, and he said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ So I went up there and we did it.”
The performance, of course, went off without a hitch. “I can sing,” says Obama. “I wasn’t worried about being able to hit those notes.”