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Posted at 2:15 PM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Lists: Five artists we wish would have performed at last week's Motown celebration at the White House

By Chris Richards

legend jonasOne of these singers did not belong. (Reuters)

Last week's Motown tribute at the White House had some spectacular moments, but in my review, I groused about a few of the performers invited to sing for the first family. (The telecast airs tonight on WETA at 8 p.m.)

Sure, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson should have a lifetime pass to sing in the White House. But did we really need Nick Jonas crooning beneath the East Room chandeliers twice in less a year? And should the cast of "Glee" be invited to visit 1600 Pennsylvania ever again? No and no way.

Here's more beef: The performances didn't cash in on the flexibility of the Motown songbook. This is a record label that has touched every genre of American pop music -- and while country, pop, rock and R&B singers were all in tow, it felt like somewhat of an empty gesture. The renditions were kept way too faithful.

That said, here are five artists I wish would have been booked to perform on Thursday.

1. Dolly Parton. British singer Seal offered a fine rendition of the Temptations' "My Girl" on Thursday, but Parton's whispy read -- she changed the lyrics and title to "My Love" -- would have been a very welcome replacement.

2. John Fogerty. Yes, John Legend's performance was the program's highlight, but I would have loved to see another John cover the late, great Marvin Gaye. The Creedence Clearwater Revival version of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" stands as one of the greatest Motown covers of all time.

3. Thao with the Get Down Stay Down. A far-flung wish, but I'd take Falls Church native Thao Nguyen over the entire cast of "Glee" any day of the week. Her cover of "You Really Got a Hold On Me" with her band the Get Down Stay Down would have made Smokey proud.

4. Erykah Badu. It's a totally different machine, but the Motown label still exists in 2011 -- and its finest artist should have been there last week. As her music continues to contort into fascinating new shapes, Badu's presence could have illustrated the label's visionary legacy.

5. The Roots as the house band. I'm still frustrated that the Obama White House hasn't booked a concert celebrating hip-hop. This would have been a very smart step in the right direction. NBC would have given them the night off, right?

By Chris Richards  | March 1, 2011; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  Lists  | Tags:  Dolly Parton, Erykah Badu, John Fogerty, John Legend, Nick Jonas, Seal, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down  
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Guess it's a sign of progress that we can dream of white artists' covers of Motown songs while Elvis and Pat Boone caught flak for the same thing years ago.

I've always felt the Beatles were great interpreters of Motown: "Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes, "Money (That's What I Want)" by Barrett Strong, and the Miracles' "You've Really Got a Hold on Me."

If you love this kind of stuff, please check out my Rockaeology blog at Thanks!

Posted by: rockaeology | March 1, 2011 6:25 PM | Report abuse

While I agree that the selection of artists could have been more diverse. I strongly believe that having Nick Jonas and the cast of Glee on the show brought a ton of young viewers to watch it and learn about music that they have probably never listened to before, but is important for them to hear. The current generation listens to almost nothing but the Top 100, but to have the artists that they listen to on such a momentous show opens up the world of music to them.
I think it was a strong choice to have them there and was a great step to bring other types of music to the current generation!

Posted by: Eagles4me | March 2, 2011 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Graham Parker would have been a good addition - he acknowledged his soul roots decades ago with "You Can't Hurry Love" and "I Want You Back", as well as doing a wonderful version of "Cupid" (pre-Motown soul).

Posted by: MyPostID27 | March 2, 2011 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Nothing, other than Martha Reeves, Stevie and Smoky, could rival Cheryl Crow's amazing opening number of Michael Jackson's "I want you back". What about the Funk Brothers who created the Motown sound and whose recording, Standing in the Shadows of Motown is off the graph. Listen to Bootsy Collins sing, "Do you love me?" or Ben Harper sing "Ain't Too proud to Beg" or Chaka Khan do "What's Goin' On?" I don't begrudge Glee and Nick Jonas. The White House is about the Obama kids, too, and Sasha looked like she was having a good time.

Posted by: pammycue | March 3, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Really great suggestions, pammycue. I would have loved to hear the surviving Funk Brothers, too.

Posted by: ChrisRichards | March 3, 2011 3:14 PM | Report abuse

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