On May 12, 2009, Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited by President Barack Obama to perform at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word. At the time, Miranda was most well-known for his Broadway show “In the Heights” and many expected him to perform something from it. Instead, Miranda took everyone in the room by surprise.
“I’m actually working on a hip-hop album. A concept album about the life of someone I think embodies hip-hop. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton,” Miranda said as he introduced himself to the audience.
The audience proceeded to laugh and Miranda acknowledged the laughter but ensured that he was serious. Then he began to sing a song that would eventually go on to be part of a musical that would win 11 Tony Awards, a Grammy Award, and a Pulitzer Prize.
As Miranda told the audience at the White House his plan–a concept album of Alexander Hamilton, someone who he thought embodied hip-hop–he said it without a hint of amusement, total seriousness. This is what hooked me.
How can Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father of the United States and the founder of the United States Treasury, embody hip-hop? These two concepts seem like they should be opposites of each other.
When Miranda announced his latest venture at the White House, he seemed prepared for this response from the guests in attendance, the same response I had when I first heard about the concept of “Hamilton.” Combining hip-hop, rap, theater and U.S. history is something that had never been done before, something no one had probably even thought of. Something of pure genius.
As Miranda sings, you can clearly see his passion for creating this work of history in musical form. Miranda is passionate, dynamic and knowledgeable. As he sings, he details Hamilton’s history. Not only does he create catchy verses, but he informs the public of one of our Founding Fathers’ past. Not an easy feat.
I would not consider myself a history buff by any means, but this simple video pushed me to want to know more about Hamilton-and not in the traditional way. Miranda takes a piece of history, something normally taught in a high school classroom to students wishing they could be anywhere else but there learning about a dead old white dude, and makes them want to know more. He makes his audience snap along, pushing them to get involved and become invested in his beautifully created piece of art.
Hip-hop and rap, staples of popular culture today, are what I believe allows Miranda’s idea to work. Without this musical style, “Hamilton” would have been just another dull installment of history. Instead, Miranda challenges his audience to invest in history and take a chance on his unique take of the life of Alexander Hamilton.