Musicians Take the Stump to the Stage for Obama

Sign up for Music for Democracy [] and you might get a call on Election Day from Barbra Streisand or Chingy, telling you why Barack Obama should be the next president of the United States.

That is just one of many unusual efforts linking musicians and the Web in unprecedented ways to influence the youth vote. Unlike past presidential races, musicians and their followers are now engaging in the political process, mostly to promote Barack Obama. This goes beyond mere endorsements, like those of high-profile stars such as Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake and Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs, and it goes beyond music-related organizing by the Obama campaign itself.

Indeed, most of the impetus has come from artists themselves. Scores of musicians have held Obama fundraising concerts in New York City, from big name, big ticket Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, to $15-a-head concerts at tiny venues in the outer boroughs. And all of them have used the Internet to fuse together their music and Obama's politics.

"The sense of urgency, and on the flip side, opportunity, is even greater now for musicians and audiences hoping to see a change that goes beyond style," said Mark Pedelty, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied the relationship between music and politics. "Some of Obama's strongest supporters also have a strong interest in popular music, and have that youthful belief that the music means something bigger than themselves."

Among those pushing this message is a small group of young activists in New York who created an online initiative they call Music for Democracy, which aims to bridge the gap between politicians, musicians and youth.

"Music for Democracy gives musicians the tools and the pedestal to say that we need to vote for Obama, that we want change," said 23-year-old Bear Kittay, a musician and founder of the effort.

Aaron Goldberg, a 34-year-old jazz pianist, is one of the artists using a musical platform for a political purpose. He produced and performed in "Jazz for Obama," a concert in Manhattan in early October, raising $60,500 for the campaign.

"Pretty much everywhere we would tour, we were looked at as representatives of America, and it's pretty clear to me that George Bush doesn't represent me or America," said Goldberg. "I felt that I had to do something to create a sense of unity and activism behind a man and a party to give us hope."

Adrienne Landry, a 28-year-old New Yorker, organized "Disc-O-bama," a fundraising disco event in Kansas, a swing state, in September. It was, she said, a "way for young adults to get their groove on while becoming more politically involved by registering to vote and financially contribute to the Obama campaign." The event raised $1,100 and registered 30 new voters.

The Obama campaign itself is also using music to reach potential supporters. Obama's Facebook page [] lists his favorite artists (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Bach and The Fugees), and he's also worked in numerous references to pop music in interviews, even telling the press that his top iPod picks include Jay-Z and Beyonce songs.

The campaign has an official soundtrack featuring hot, young artists like Kanye West and John Mayer. And the official Obama website has links to 60 music groups such as "New York Musicians for Obama" and "Classical Musicians for Obama."

At the same time, Obama has distanced himself from some of the music that swirls around him, publicly criticizing the glorification of materialism, casual sex and bling in rap lyrics. When he accepted his nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, his campaign played a country anthem, "Only in America" in the background.

Of course, John McCain has his music backers too, such as country singers Gretchen Wilson and John Rich. But artists have tended to sing most loudly for Obama, said Pedelty, adding, "Pop, rock and hip-hop videos look a lot more like an Obama rally than a McCain-Palin event."

The entertainment and music industry donated $24 million to the Democrats in 2008, but only $8 million to Republicans, according to

The connection between pop culture, music and politics has been propelled by a technological leap, with blogs, social networks and YouTube all being tapped by artists wanting to participate in the political process.

Examples abound: The popular "Yes We Can" [] and "We are the ones" [] music videos launched on YouTube by artist feature a number of pop and hip-hop stars.

Music for Democracy has organized concerts in swing states, such as "Rock for Barack" in New Mexico, and encourages even little-known artists to use a widget on their own websites to send their small cadre of fans to the Music for Democracy site.

On Election Day, Music for Democracy will also send voice mails – both pre-recorded messages and live phone calls from musicians – to people registered on the site, reminding them to vote for Obama.

The group's members hope this year's efforts foreshadow an even bigger presence in the 2010 congressional race. "By that time, we hope to be well entrenched so that politicians will be thinking they really need to plan for the youth vote with the help of music," said Mitch Manzella, the group's executive director.

"The days of the fat guy smoking a cigar who is the head of the Democratic Party in each state are gone," Kittay said. "We're talking about a Facebook society and in this society, we win."