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Obama hosts tribute to protest songs airing Thursday

Crediting civil rights-era protest songs and their spiritual predecessors for his election, President Barack Obama sat in the East Room of the White House and listened to an all-star lineup of performers pay tribute to the music that he said fueled freedom marches and civil disobedience.

The nation's first black president transformed the grand ballroom into a concert hall packed with members of his Cabinet, Congress, civil rights leaders and students for a program that will air Thursday night at 8 on WNET/13, The Associated Press reports.

Queen Latifah's rendition of the Marvin Gaye classic "What's Going On" and Yolanda Adams' spirited rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" were early highlights of a night that continued the Obamas' effort to open the White House to America's soundtrack.

"The civil rights movement was a movement sustained by music," Obama said as he welcomed his audience.

He said activists from coast to coast were inspired by spirituals, felt their will sharpened by protest songs and base broadened by artists of hope. He said their work paved the way toward a more just America that allowed his election to make history in 2008.

That celebration was supposed to come yesterday, but faced with another major winter storm the White House decided to move the concert ahead by a day to beat what could be a second crippling snowfall in a week. As guests packed the first floor of the executive mansion, heavy snow landed on the South Lawn and blanketed the rest of Washington.

Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were on the schedule of performers, along with Natalie Cole, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, John Mellencamp, Seal and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

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