A rapper better known for pushing peace than inspiring violence, Common has caused quite the controversy after being invited to visit the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama reached out to the Chicago rapper asking him to attend a poetry event. But the invitation has caused an uproar over at Fox News, with one of its blogs describing the rapper as “vile”
The real issue seems to be the lyrics of Common’s song “A Letter to the Law” in which Common takes jabs at President George W. Bush and his war on terror: “Why they messing with Saddam? Burn a Bush ’cause for peace, he push no button.”
Interestingly, the folks at Fox didn’t always hate on Common. In a 2009 interview, Fox News reporter Jason Robinson was quoted telling the reporter, “Your music is very positive and you’re known as the conscious rapper. How important is that to you, and how important do you think that is to our kids?” Seems like they used to be on the same page.
Controversial White House visitors are nothing new, but Common is the first in a long time to stir up complaints. Here, we look back on a few wild celebrity visitors who made memorable trips to the White House.
Crosby, Stills, & Nash
In 1977, the trio was invited by President Carter to come and take a tour of the White House. Known for indulging in psychedelics and “devil’s lettuce,” it came as a surprise to the group, who had turned down the President’s request for them to perform a concert. They even claim to have “indulged” themselves while in the Oval Office.
One of the most famous White House visitors of all time, Elvis Presley secretly met with President Nixon in December 1970 (the press didn’t catch wind of it for a whole month). Presley had written Nixon requesting to become a Federal Agent-at-Large for the Bureau of Narcotics, explaining that he could convince impressionable youth not to do drugs. Yes, we sense the irony as well, but it makes more sense when you find out that Presley was a devoted collector of badges. The iconic photo of Presley and Nixon shaking hands remains the most requested image in the National Archives, passing even the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
When Richard Nixon asked that Johnny Cash perform at the White House in 1972, he requested the Man in Black play a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” (a satirical tune against drug users and war protesters) among other family-friendly tunes. Cash declined the request and instead performed his own songs, including “The Ballad of Ira Haye,” which happens to be about a Native American World War II veteran who is permanently affected by what he sees in battle. In his autobiography, Cash claimed to have told Nixon he couldn’t play the requested songs because he didn’t know them rather than cite political issues.
We’ve all heard the urban legend that country legend Willie Nelson smoked “a big fat Austin torpedo” on the White House roof after performing for President Carter in 1980. The thing is, Nelson claims it totally happened, even under the watchful eye of the Secret Service. The old chums even joked about the event in a joint (pun totally intended) interview. Nelson returned to the White House last year, just weeks after being arrested for marijuana possession. Some things never change.