The 19th Tribeca Film Festival will open with the premiere of the rockumentary-style presidential portrait Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President on April 15. The documentary catalogues how popular music helped replant a Georgia peanut farmer in the White House.
Sure, we remember Barack Obama breaking into an Al Green jam during his presidential press conferences, but there was a time the only kinds of music you associated with the White House were The Marine Marching Band, John Philip Sousa and Guy Lombardo. Abraham Lincoln went to the opera thirty times while he was president. President Nixon’s barrelhouse piano intermittently backed up Pearl Bailey. But when Canadian rock band The Guess Who played the White House on July 17, 1970, they had to drop “American Woman,” their newest and biggest single from the set list. The band was cool with it. It’s not often you get hired and paid to do a show and not do your biggest hit.
The White House hosted performing artists from Al Jolson through Sergei Rachmaninoff. Cellist Pablo Casals played for Jack and Jackie Kennedy. President and Mrs. Ford booked The Captain and Tennille and let Duke Ellington turn the Medal of Freedom presentation into a jam with the biggest names in Jazz. But no one got high on the White House roof until the Carter administration. Dan Aykroyd had already shown Carter as a mellow Allman Brothers-listening, bad trip consoling, leader of the free world on Saturday Night Live.
Directed by Mary Wharton, whose documentary feature Sam Cooke: Legend won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Music Film, the documentary shows how Carter’s lifelong passion for music gave him an unexpected edge as a presidential candidate. Carter’s appreciation for all genres of music and friendships with the likes of Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers, and Willie Nelson helped to define his campaign.
“The film accurately captures my love for all music and the importance music has played in my personal and professional life,” President Jimmy Carter said in a statement. “I remain hopeful and believe that music can serve to bring us together as a nation. Rosalynn and I are pleased with the fine film Mary and Chris have made and thank all those involved for telling this story.”
Wharton traces how Carter’s “genuine approachability and the unifying power of music became key to his political appeal, and allowed him to connect with voters who may only have known him as a small town peanut farmer,” reads the official synopsis.” Carter tapped into a force that transcended racial and generational divides, and often party lines, “through folk, soul, gospel, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll.”
Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President mixes interviews with Carter with rare archival era-defining live performances from artists like Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Buffett, and Paul Simon. The film was produced by Chris Farrell and written by Bill Flanagan.
You can watch a clip of Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President here:
The world premiere of Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President will be followed by live performances from Willie Nelson, Paul Shaffer, and Nile Rodgers at the Beacon Theatre. The event is part of the City National Bank Screening Series during the Festival.
Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President will open the 19th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival on April 15. The 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, will run April 15 through 26.