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Crediting civil rights-era protest songs and their spiritual predecessors for his election, President Obama last night opened the White House to an all-star lineup that paid tribute to the music that he said fueled freedom marches and civil disobedience. Queen Latifah sang the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Going On” and Yolanda Adams gave a spirited rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come” in a program that will air on public television later this week in honor of Black History Month.

“The civil rights movement was a movement sustained by music,” Obama said as he welcomed his audience. 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. Morgan Freeman read excerpts from historical works throughout the night, and later deadpanned, “I wish I could sing.”

President Obama speaks at a Black History Month event celebrating the music of the Civil Rights Movement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010.

Actor Morgan Freeman speaks with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and his wife Marcelle at a Black History Month event celebrating the music of the Civil Rights Movement hosted by President Obama in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010.

President Obama and Michelle Obama arrive at a Black History Month event celebrating the music of the Civil Rights Movement, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010.

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