Let's Stay Sequestered: Obama Hosts Soul Show

President Obama kicked off the week in Connecticut with a rallying cry for new gun control measures hand-in-hand with Sandy Hook parents.

This afternoon, Obama sat down in the Oval Office with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel -- who, with a military, civilian, and contractor work force on edge about their jobs, is tasked with unveiling what could be a punishing presidential budget for the Pentagon tomorrow.

Over at the Senate tonight, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture on the motion to proceed to the gun-control package, which means the first vote to end debate and proceed to a vote on the bill will happen one hour after the upper chamber convenes Thursday.

This evening, just hours after Obama's chef Sam Kass told reporters he would be furloughed because of sequestration cuts, the White House rolled out the red carpet for a celebration of Memphis soul.

The White House that's still closed to public tours because of sequestration cuts.

The unveiling of Obama's severely tardy budget seemed to be the last thing on the mind of the president as he took a front-row seat in the East Room with his daughters and the first lady to toe-tap and finger-snap his way through a star-studded set.

Unfortunately, Al Green had to drop out of the "In Performance at the White House" installment. The "Let's Stay Together" singer previously couldn't make it to the inauguration because of scheduling conflicts.

“Al Green has suffered a back injury that will prevent him from traveling. It is an injury he has experienced before and a full recovery is expected," said JR Rich, senior vice-president for publicity at Blue Note Records. "He regrets he will not be able to perform before the president and first lady at this esteemed event.”

That left the first family with Alabama Shakes, William Bell, Steve Cropper, Ben Harper, Queen Latifah, Cyndi Lauper, Joshua Ledet, Sam Moore, Charlie Musselwhite, Mavis Staples and Justin Timberlake to perform at the fiesta, with Booker T. Jones as music director and band leader.

"Tonight, I am speaking not just as a president, but as one of America's best-known Al Green impersonators," Obama said. "…All I know is I've been looking forward to tonight because, let's face it, who does not love this music? These songs get us on the dance floor. Even the governor of Tennessee said he's going to dance tonight."

The president said soul music "is about the pain of being alone, the power of human connection, and the importance of treating each other right."

"After all, this is the music that asked us to try a little tenderness. It's the music that put Mr. Big Stuff in his place. And it's the music that challenged us to accept new ways of thinking with four timeless words: 'Can you dig it?'"

Ken Ehrlich, the executive producer of the show, quipped to the audience that the performance featured so many Otis Redding songs that it was dubbed "Otis for POTUS."

Warming up the audience, Ehrlich led the crowd in practicing rhythmic clapping to a recording of "Respect," then praised the white people in the room for catching on, according to the White House pool report.

Obama walked onstage to Booker T. & the M.G.s' tune "Green Onions" and quipped he would be swapping the song for "Hail to the Chief" from here on out. "Little change in tradition," he quipped.

Reporters were ushered out of the room after one song, but not before spotting Jill Biden in a leopard-print dress.

The show was streamed live on the White House website -- and the Drudge Report -- and will be aired April 16 on PBS.

Earlier in the day, at the Memphis Soul Workshop hosted by Michelle Obama, the first lady said "the White House is buzzing with excitement today as we celebrate the rhythmic groove of Memphis soul."

"As you listen, I want you all to keep one thing in mind -- and I try to say this to every young person that I encounter that walks through those doors -- but realize that none of these folks up here arrived here on the basis of talent alone," Obama told the schoolchildren picked to come to the event. "They're here because they've been working hard to perfect their craft since they were at least your age and many of them even younger."

Tomorrow night, after his budget is finally unveiled, Obama will once again whip out his wine-and-dine agenda to take more Senate Republicans out to eat -- just hours before the gun-bill cloture vote.

"He looks forward to this," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at the daily briefing. "…He believes that there is a common sense caucus in Washington that embraces the idea that compromise requires moving off of your absolutist positions, accepting that you don't get everything you want, that ideological purity is not achievable legislatively when you have a divided government, as we do in Washington."