Today is Barack Obama’s last full day in the White House. If that saddens you as it saddens me, here is a consolation. Lin-Manuel Miranda performed a nascent version of “Alexander Hamilton” at a White House poetry jam in 2009. It’s a national treasure, part of a rich cultural legacy hosted by the Obama White House. A retrospective story by WNYC News (When Outside Art Became In: Obama’s Cultural Legacy) describes Miranda’s White House debut:
Out walked a young man, sporting short hair and a sharp black suit. Looking like he was just out of college.
“I’m actually working on a hiphop album,” he said. A concept album, he added, about the man he felt best embodied hiphop: Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.
The crowd giggled, unconvinced. President Obama, just a few months into his first term, covered his mouth in an effort to suppress a smile.
“You laugh! But it’s true!” insisted Lin-Manuel Miranda, before finally launching into song. This was six years before “Hamilton the Musical,” well before Miranda became a household name. He looked nervous.
Outside, the U.S. economy was in free fall. The unemployment rate was about to hit ten percent. But if there was one place where the Obama administration was consistently ahead of the curve, it was in the cultural sphere: over eight years, the White House served as a staging ground for countless artists, intellectuals and activists, especially those from communities of color, especially cultural producers from New York, long exiled from Washington.
The WhiteHouse.gov clip belongs to the public domain. I hope the barbarian billionaire populists who take over tomorrow do not purge it from the Internet.