Politics may make strange bedfellows, but a love of music made Jimmy Carter the ideal politician for many of the most important artists of the 1970s. Throughout the new documentary, “Jimmy Carter, Rock and Roll President,” we see Carter strolling in shirtsleeves, his trademark smile on his face, embracing musicians from the worlds of rock, jazz, folk rock, classical, rhythm and blues, country, gospel and Southern Rock, which was a particular favorite of the Georgia native, who was good friends with Gregg Allman. The film is now playing at the Sunrise Virtual Theater until Oct. 1.
In the 1970s, what Americans knew of a president’s tastes felt more calculated than cultural. This is one reason the diverse, passionate musical tastes of America’s 39th president was a revelation during that era. It was not only because Carter’s love of music echoed the energy of the times, but also because at first glance, it appeared to be the total opposite to Carter’s image.
A son of small-town Plains, Ga., James Earl Carter Jr. was born in 1924 and raised Southern Baptist, attended the U.S. Naval Academy, and served in the Navy for 10 years. In 1953, he left the military to return to Georgia and run the family peanut farm before being elected to the state senate in 1963 and serving as governor of Georgia from 1971-75.
Carter won the 1976 Democratic nomination for president in the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam moment. His love of music and his friends in the music industry helped define the man. Musicians became a vital part of Carter’s fundraisers and campaign events, and once in office, the hits kept on coming.
Jimmy Carter’s presidential inauguration welcomed everyone from John Lennon and Yoko Ono to John Wayne (representing “the loyal opposition, accent on the loyal,” as Wayne said). Aretha Franklin sang “God Bless America,” and Paul Simon sang “American Tune.”
Carter bridged that gap through his friendship with Bob Dylan and others. His 1977 inauguration was filled with a bipartisan roster of stars; his first dinner guests in the White House, Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers and Allman’s then-wife, Cher; and a groundbreaking, extraordinary jazz concert on the South Lawn in 1978.
“You can understand why fans are drawn to musicians, but why was the converse true — why were musicians drawn to Carter?” asks the film’s producer, Chris Farrell. “It’s because he was so genuine. That’s what made those artists gravitate to him. They knew he was real and trying to include everybody and didn’t believe in the divisiveness that we’ve come to expect in politics for the last 40 years. It was — and still is — important for Carter to always be true to himself. He didn’t change tastes because it might bolster him politically.”
Through illuminating new interviews, a portrait emerges of a man whose cultural significance during the 1970s was as relevant and far-reaching as his post-presidency work with the Carter Center has been life-changing for millions around the world.
Since leaving office, Carter’s work with The Carter Center and collaboration with Habitat for Humanity (through the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project) have been instrumental in alleviating homelessness, treating preventable diseases including Guinea worm and malaria, and promoting equality and diplomacy. In the film, we see his involvement with these causes and others sparking the same kind of excitement and enthusiasm that hanging out with music superstars did in the years he was elected president.
The fascinating documentary is now showing at the Sunrise Virtual Theater.
“Viewing virtual films is a great way to support the Sunrise Theater and enjoy some wonderful films in the comfort of your home,” says MaryBeth Poplyk, executive director of the theater.
To access the film, visit SunriseTheater.com. Movies can be viewed on smartphones, tablets, laptops, and smart TVs or linked to TVs via HDMI cables. The family/group viewing fee for “Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President” is $9.99 for a three-day pass. For more information about the Sunrise Virtual Theater and the other movies offered, visit SunriseTheater.com or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sunrise Theater (The Sunrise Preservation Group Inc.) is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt, nonprofit organization. Contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent permitted by law.