Q&A With James Alexander, 

Member of the Bar-Kays

From the soulful sounds of the Bar-Kays to the pop and R&B tunes of Justin Timberlake, Memphis' music scene has a lot to offer.

Last Tuesday, some of the area's most notable artists displayed their musical talents for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during the 10th installment of the In Performance at the White House series.

The event paid tribute to "Memphis Soul" through the performances of Timberlake and the Bar-Kays, along with Sam Moore of Sam & Dave, Charlie Musselwhite, Mavis Staples, Cyndi Lauper, Booker T and the MGs, and many more.

Since its launch in 2009, the In Performance series has celebrated the music of artists such as Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Motown Records, and the blues and country genres.

James Alexander of the Bar-Kays (who also played at Obama's 2012 inauguration) took time to speak about his experience playing the concert, meeting the president and first lady, and what it's like inside the White House.

Flyer: How was it performing in this concert series?
James Alexander: Unbelievable. How many times do you get the chance to be in the White House and perform for the president?

Why do you think the concert organizers selected Memphis Soul to be celebrated?
Memphis is where it all started. It's the birthplace of rock-and-roll and the home of the blues. Popular music as we know it pretty much originated from Memphis. There are other cities that might take claim, but actually, man, it all originated in Memphis.

What do you feel Memphis' music scene offers to the world?
If you're trying to do music with a feeling, Memphis is the place that you need to come. Most of the [city's artists], no matter what kind of music they create, all of it has a feeling, and that's very important in music. Music is emotional, but there's a lot of music out there now that doesn't have feeling. But the people who make music around this area, they all put feeling in it.

Grammy Award-winning musician Booker T. Jones served as music director during the event. How was it working with him?
It was like a family reunion. A lot of people don't know, but Booker T. played on our first record. Back then, on the 45s, they had the A- and B-side. On the B-side, we had a song called "Knucklehead." Booker played harmonica on that song.

Was there a particular artist you most enjoyed playing with?
It was very special to perform behind Mavis Staples and Sam Moore. Mavis Staples, William Bell, and Sam Moore, we all were on the same label together at Stax [Records]. You know, everybody was really special.

How was it being inside the White House and meeting the president and first lady?
[The White House] is pretty secured. You can't move around freely like you would want to. You have to have an escort wherever you go. When you meet the president, the Secret Service puts you in groups of five, and they call you. You go up, and you have about 30 seconds to shake his hand, take your picture and have whatever conversation you're going to have with him. They say, 15 minutes of fame, I had 30 seconds of fame, and it was all right with me, man. It was all good.



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