Jimmy Carter’s 10 Biggest Rock Star Connections
Richard Nixon may have invited Elvis Presley over for a visit, but it was Jimmy Carter who truly brought rock and roll into the White House. Here are 10 stories about how our 39th president successfully intertwined his love of music with his political career.
The Allman Brothers Band Helped Get Carter Elected
It's possible Carter wouldn't have secured his White House victory without the Allman Brothers Band's live prowess. The Georgia governor's presidential campaign was $300,000 in debt when the Southern rock group worked their magic — one 1975 campaign support show raised over $64,000, which Carter doubled due to recently passed legislation that matched public donations with government funds. "Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers just about put me in the White House," Carter reflected in 2015.
The Band Covered "Georgia on My Mind" for Carter — in the Studio and on TV
In their previous era backing Ronnie Hawkins as "the Hawks," the Band frequently covered "Georgia on My Mind" onstage. But their support for Carter's presidential campaign pushed them to record a studio version of the song, which had been widely popularized by Ray Charles. “Jimmy Carter had been kind enough to receive us in the Georgia governor’s mansion when we passed through Atlanta back on the 1974 Dylan tour, and now he was running for president against Gerald Ford," Levon Helm told The Independent in 1984. "We’d been getting calls asking us to help, so we released a single of ‘Georgia on My Mind’ in Mr. Carter’s honor. Richard [Manuel] sang it with the soul factor turned pretty high. On 30 October, 1976, we played ‘Georgia’ on Saturday Night Live, and a few days later Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States.”
The Marshall Tucker Band Played Benefits for Carter
Another major Southern rock act, the Marshall Tucker Band, stepped up to support Carter's presidential campaign, playing the first of multiple benefit shows at Atlanta's Fox Theater on Oct. 31, 1975. Capricorn Records co-founder and president Phil Walden — who told Rolling Stone that year that Carter was "the type of candidate the music industry can identify with" — was instrumental in helping organize some of these events. "[Walden] and [Capricorn CEO] Frank Fenter wanted to help raise money for their Georgia-peach candidate," the band's Doug Gray told UCR. "They asked us if we would be so kind as to play the show, and of course we did. We didn't think much of it. We just figured, 'Hey, bands play shows for different people.'"
Charlie Daniels Says Carter Brought Credibility Back to the White House
Bluegrass giant Charlie Daniels took part in the biggest Carter benefit event, a Florida stadium concert also featuring the Marshall Tucker Band and the Allman Brothers Band's Dickey Betts, among others. The fundraiser earned the Carter campaign roughly $280,000 (over $1 million in 2021 money). Decades later, Daniels' support remains: "Jimmy Carter was a good man," he reflected in 2014. "He brought some credibility back to the office of the presidency."
Carter Became "Immersed" in Bob Dylan's Music While Governor
When Carter was still Georgia's governor, he was "immersed" in Bob Dylan's music via his three college-aged sons. "[He] was a hero of my children," he recalled in the 2020 film Jimmy Carter: Rock ’n’ Roll President, noting their deep conversation. ”When he came to perform in Atlanta, I invited him out to the governor’s mansion. He came and brought the band with him. At that time, he was going through a personal challenge of deciding between whether he should be a Christian or not. He and I went out in the garden and spent a good amount of time talking about his religious phase. So Bob Dylan was a special favorite of us at the time.”
Dylan also played a role in Carter's presidential campaign. As Rolling Stone notes, during the politician's acceptance speech at the 1976 Democratic convention, he directly quoted the singer-songwriter by nodding to "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)": “We have an America that, in Bob Dylan’s phrase, is busy being born, not busy dying." Carter later attended a Dylan show in the late '80s and introduced him in 2015 as MusiCares' Person of the Year.
Crosby, Stills and Nash Visit the White House
After considering announcing their reunion by performing at Carter's Inaugural Ball, Crosby, Stills and Nash visited the White House in June of 1977. "I feel that the guy is so intelligent that he knows how to be human and accessible and real," Crosby told Rolling Stone. "It's sheer genius."
In a 2014 Guardian interview, Crosby said he stopped the band's former manager's attempt to smoke a joint during their Oval Office visit. "As soon as he started to light it, I clamped his hand with the lit joint and wouldn't let go. I told him that if he wouldn't be absolutely quiet I was going to kill him. Or at least beat the crap out of him. What a freakin' idiot."
Willie Nelson's Music Helped Carter in a Crisis
Of course the most famous Willie Nelson / Jimmy Carter story is the one where Nelson smoked weed on the White House roof with the President's son Chip. But according to Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President director Mary Wharton, Nelson's rendition of "Amazing Grace" helped Carter through a trying time. "The 1979 Iran hostage crisis was obviously the most difficult challenge that (Carter) had ever faced, and obviously a very, very stressful time for him. And he was able to get through that by listening to a Willie Nelson gospel record," Wharton told CNN. "...There was a musical connection to how he managed to get through that crisis with such grace and humility and the ability to make the hard choices to be sure that those 52 American hostages came home alive. His presidency was killed by it, but those Americans came home alive, and that was all he cared about."
Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin Played Carter's Inaugural Ball
Carter showed excellent taste in musical guests for his January 20, 1977 Inaugural Ball, inviting Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin to sing at the event. Simon performed "American Tune" while Franklin tore the house down with "God Bless America." It would be the first of three such invitations for Franklin, who was also asked to help usher Bill Clinton and Barack Obama into the White House.
A White House Birthday Party Becomes a Champagne Jam
Carter celebrated his son Chip's 28th birthday by inviting "Champagne Jam" / "Imaginary Lover" hitmakers Atlanta Rhythm Section to play on the White House lawn. According to the band's official site, Carter introduced the band by saying "Not only are we both from the same part of the country, but I remember when they first started that all the critics and commentators said they didn't have a chance - and they said the same thing about me."
The White House Record Collection Got a Lot Cooler Under Carter
The official White House record collection held about 2,000 records, but rock was sorely underrepresented. In 1979 producer John Hammond led an effort to rectify that with important albums by Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and even the Sex Pistols. The new additions arrived in 1981, but were soon relegated to the White House basement by Ronald Reagan, who defeated Carter in the 1980 presidential election.