(CNN) – The new sound out of Memphis in the 1960s and 70s wasn’t just catchy, President Barack Obama said Tuesday. Soul music was a way to unite people through common human emotions – love, heartbreak and tenderness.
Speaking at a White House celebration of the genre, Obama said those common themes made Memphis soul almost universally popular.
“Who does not love this music?” he asked to applause. The event featured a slew of hit-makers, both past (Mavis Staples, Eddie Floyd, William Bell) and present (Queen Latifah, Cyndi Lauper, and Justin Timberlake, singing “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” alongside Steve Cropper).
“These songs get us on the dance floor…They get stuck in our heads,” Obama said. “We go back over them again and again. And they’ve played an important part in our history.”
When Memphis was a segregated city in the 1960s, musicians formed integrated bands that helped to “bridge those divides - to create a little harmony with harmony,” Obama said.
“That was the spirit of their music - the sound of Soulsville, U.S.A., a music that, at its core, is about the pain of being alone, the power of human connection, and the importance of treating each other right,” Obama said.
During the concert, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama danced in their seats alongside daughters Malia and Sasha.
The concert was part of the PBS series “In Performance at the White House,” which began in 1978.