Obama Croons to Harlem Supporters' Delight

At the Apollo to raise funds, he treated them to a little Al Green -- and a pitch for four more years.

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President Obama (Getty Images)

Who knew President Obama could sing?

He caught a sold-out audience of Democratic supporters off guard last night at the historic Apollo Theater in New York's Harlem community when he broke out into a bar of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." Following opening acts by india.arie and Green, President Obama began his remarks by crooning -- on-key -- "I'm so in love with you." As the gathering of more than 1,500 cheered with delight, he looked around and noted with a grin that the Apollo's beloved Sandman hadn't come with his hook to shoo the president offstage.

As if. Even if the beloved tap dancer of Showtime at the Apollo had somehow been resurrected (he died in 2003) to let President Obama know his time was up, he'd have had to tackle a phalanx of Secret Service agents and an audience that fell solidly in the president's political base. The racially diverse gathering of uptown movers and shakers had come to see history: the first time a sitting president has appeared at the Apollo Theater.

Democratic Reps. Charlie Rangel and Jerrold Nadler were among those on hand to enjoy the added treat of an impromptu presidential performance, which followed a concert featuring  india.arie's upbeat set ("There's Hope" and the new "6th Avenue" were among her selections) and soul legend Green, who kept the crowd on its feet with "I'm Still in Love With You" and "Let's Stay Together."

Looking somewhat worn at the final stop on a gauntlet of campaign fundraisers in New York yesterday evening (other stops included a reception at Spike and Tonya Lee's Upper East Side townhouse and mingling with Jewish supporters at the restaurant Daniel), President Obama appeared to rely on the crowd's enthusiasm to keep his energy up as he rattled off his administration's accomplishments during his first term in office.  

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first law he signed when he took office, President Obama reminded the gathering. "Change is the health care reform bill that we passed," he said, to extended applause. "Change is that for the first time in history you don't need to hide who you are to serve in the military," he said, adding, "We ended the war in Iraq," and Osama bin Laden is no more.

He asked the crowd for patience, acknowledging that he is not "a perfect man or a perfect president," and that all of the change his base had expected hadn't happened yet. "Real change takes more than a single term or a single president," said President Obama, making the case for four more years in office. Reminding those gathered that GOP lawmakers are focused on beating him at all costs, he characterized the crop of Republican presidential contenders as extremists who make his 2008 opponent Sen. John McCain look moderate by comparison. "You have not seen a choice this stark in years," he said. "Even in 2008 the Republican nominee wasn't a climate change denier. He was in favor of immigration reform. He was opposed to torture."

Speaking in the largely black locale where more than 31 percent of families live below the poverty line, the president addressed Republican claims that he is engaging in class warfare by asking the wealthiest Americans to pay more taxes. He did not take advantage of the setting to talk about the need to lift millions of Americans out of poverty, but instead reasoned that in order to fund the investments that will help propel the American economy forward while continuing to pay for Social Security, Medicare and military spending, "All of us have to do our part."

It was an argument suited to the racially diverse mix of middle-class and well-heeled supporters, who had paid ticket prices of $100 to $5,000 to be in the room -- surely, some of them were sympathetic members of the "1 percent." Their contributions added to the more than $244 million the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee have raised so far for his re-election bid.

Meanwhile, across the street from the theater, protesters penned behind metal barricades held signs that said, "No to Wall Street Dictatorship" and "To Understand Me, See Inside Job" and other messages to remind the president of the concerns of the "99 percent."

Sheryl Huggins Salomon is managing editor of The Root.

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