How Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Hamilton' Marked A Tipping Point In White House Culture
"What do our favorite hip-hop artists do if not write about the struggle so well that they transcend them?"
"If the White House calls you to perform something and you've got a good 16 bars on Alexander Hamilton in your pocket, you've got to do it," is what Lin-Manuel Miranda said about the first time he performed Hamilton for the First Family, seven years ago today.
On a gloomy Monday morning, the air hung thick and wet as I waited to enter the White House for the first time. An invitation by cryptic language had come in just days prior via email. What I didn't realize, and what Michelle Obama would soon explain in her opening remarks, was that Lin-Manuel's Hamilton started off as just a single mixtape performed at a poetry event that the Obamas hosted circa 2009. The occasion, which also featured Mayda del Valle, Esperanza Spalding and Jamaica Osorio to name a few, marked a turning of the tide in White House culture.
"We started with an event on all the art forms," said FLOTUS as Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson and Phillipa Soo held court inside the State Dining Room. "Think painting, music, culture, spoken word, and especially art forms that had never been seen in these [White House] walls.
"Seven years ago today, the President and I brought Lin here to perform his mixtape, which we were skeptical about at first," she admitted earlier, alluding that she and Obama hadn't been entirely sold on the whole Alexander Hamilton rap thing.
The room, now packed with equal parts high school students, supporting members of the cast and press, broke out in applause as the First Lady closed out and Miranda approached center stage to say a few words on the importance of Hamilton and why his life isn't some black and white memory from a distant past.
"What I recognized when I picked up the book was someone who had a remarkable life. At the end of the second chapter he writes that essay that gets him off the island and I go 'if this guy's life isn't a musical, I don't know what is.' I know this dude," explained the playwright, "and I think he's a rapper. It's funny if you watch the footage of when I first performed in this room, I say the same thing and the crowd laughs. But what do our favorite hip-hop artists do if not write about the struggle so well that they transcend them?"
Miranda and his crew went on to perform special selections of the sold out musical for the Obamas and friends. Talk about coming full circle.
Writers love symmetry.
Profound thanks to @WhiteHouse for letting us finish the story at their home--7 years after starting.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) March 15, 2016