Class Uses Obama's Playbook to Try to Land an Inaugural Gig

December 04, 2008

To win the keys to the White House, Barack Obama combined Internet savvy with grass-roots organizing.

Marketing students at the Berklee College of Music are using the same strategy in hopes of sending two of their professors to Washington to perform at one of the official inaugural balls on January 20. Slots at the galas are highly coveted, and the Presidential Inaugural Committee is expected to announce its selections around December 15.

The members of Stephanie Kellar’s “Principles of Marketing” class are basing their campaign on a single video, a soaring performance of “America the Beautiful” by Donna McElroy and Jetro da Silva at the 2004 inauguration of Berklee’s president, Roger Brown.

In the video, Mr. da Silva, a professor of ensemble, plays a complex piano arrangement while Ms. McElroy, a voice professor, belts out the patriotic hymn in a progression of musical genres. “She starts out in jazz, then moves to pop and R&B,” says Ms. Kellar. “Then she takes it to church [gospel] and comes out in jazz.”

Ms. Kellar says she screened the video for her students this fall and told them, “if anyone ever asks why you chose Berklee, show them this video.”

After Mr. Obama won the election, the class decided to try using a viral marketing strategy to publicize the video and draw grass-roots support for the duo to perform at one of the inaugural galas. Ms. Kellar says the class followed protocol by submitting a formal application as well.

Whether or not Ms. McElroy and Mr. da Silva make it to Washington, Ms. Kellar points out, their video has already collected nearly 22,000 hits on YouTube (a tally that doesn’t count views on other Web sites where it is embedded). “We decided that even if we didn’t get the nod from the inaugural committee,” she says, “we could still share that fabulous video.” —Don Troop