The event held at Philadelphia’s Mann Music Center on Tuesday night (July 27) was gong to be special no matter what. It was headlined by soul goddess Aretha Franklin, whose instrument hasn’t lost a single step in four decades. And the concert, which attracted 8,000 fans, was set up to raise money for charities that provide music and the arts to inner city youth, which is as noble a cause as is out there. But it was made extra special by the appearance of former Secretary of State and classically-trained pianist Condoleeza Rice, who joined Franklin on stage for a handful of songs. She opened with a selection from a Mozart concerto and then backed up Franklin on “I Say a Little Prayer” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
Rice is hardly the first politician to dip her toes into the world of popular music and performance. Former President Bill Clinton was an excellent tenor saxophonist (he once jammed on “The Arsenio Hall Show”). Al Sharpton showed off his vocal chops on an episode of “Saturday Night Live,” while former Attorney General John Ashcroft once performed a wacky song that he wrote called “Let the Eagles Soar.”
Historically speaking, politicians have often been trained in music. Thomas Jefferson played a number of instruments (including cello), while John Quincy Adams was quite skilled at the flute. Richard Nixon was trained on the accordion (so was former presidential hopeful Ross Perot) and Woodrow Wilson was a skilled violinist. But Rice is the only political figure who appears to have actually considered music as a career (she had her sights set on being a concert pianist before getting into international relations, which is not unlike going to music theater school and ending up a rock critic instead).
“All I had seen of Dr. Rice was in a political atmosphere,” Franklin said. “It just seemed foreign that she would be a classical pianist. She really does play. She’s formidable.”