Jon Ben Berger. (Foto: Lennart Brorsson) Jon Ben Berger. (Foto: Lennart Brorsson)

Jon Ben Berger "He Made It To The Mountain" Obama Inauguration 2009

2018-02-22 - 18:40

För en kort tid sedan avled Jon Ben Berger som var bosatt i Uppsala. Jon Ben Berger var en artist som brann för att förändra världen med sina texter och sin musik. Nära vännen, landsmannen (båda dessutom från Brooklyn) och musikerkollegan Brian Kramer vill hylla sin saknade vän genom en berättelse om när Jon fick en av sina låtar framförda på en gala som Cyndee Peters ordnade i samband med att President Obama skulle tillträda sitt ämbete 2009.

 

Läs Brian Kramers fängslande historia om ett av Jon Ben Bergers kanske största ögonblick (obs! texten är på engelska)

 

 

November 4th 2008, Barack Obama was just elected the 44th President of the United States. It was a very optimistic time, there was a euphoric sense of hope everywhere and my friend Jon Ben Berger was overly excited as well. 40 years before, a man he idolized had been shot and killed; Martin Luther King Jr. He had then written a song in tribute to Dr. King titled "He Made It To the Mountain" and stowed the song away. After Obama was elected President, Jon went on a mission and knew exactly what he needed to do. He revisited that song and recorded it, then he wrote to the people who handled Obama's campaign and offered the song as part of the inauguration, passionately feeling that Obama's greatness echoed everything he believed in Dr. King. However, Jon received a polite reply back thanking him, but preparations had already been made and approved regarding the music.


Jon was a child of the 1960's, he was at Woodstock and he was in the middle of what was believed to be the revolution that could change the world through music. Through his life he never wavered on these ideals and they were infused with every note he has created and sung. He was a little disheartened by the response, but not distracted.


I recall clearly Jon rang me up on the phone in January. I was walking through a slushy parking lot on a cold winter day, on my way to the bus. "Brian, I'm looking at an announcement in Metro, they're going to have a big Obama gala for his inauguration at the Concert House January 20th!"


This was literally a few weeks away and I didn't want to pump Jon up too much, but I knew immediately where he was going with this; he wanted to get "He Made It To The Mountain" in that program somehow.
I carefully asked "who's involved? Who's the main artist?" He told me it was Cyndee Peters, a beloved Gospel singer living in Sweden, someone I happened to know and had recorded with as well as her being a fellow Brooklyn-ite.


"Jon, it's only a few weeks away, I'm sure it's a real long shot, but I have Cyndee's email, why don't you send her a request? If it helps to get you on her radar, mention me as well." I got off the phone and I was tingling with Jon's optimism and sense of mission, even though it just seemed impossible.

 

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Jon Ben Berger med vännen och musikerkollegan Brian Kramer. (Foto: Lennart Brorsson)


Jon wrote the letter, sent a recording of the song he'd done in his own studio along with the text and backstory connected to Martin Luther King and stating that he wished to perform this song at the gala. Cyndee Peters must have been very busy with preparations for this major event and in all fairness, she could have just as well ignored the message, but she was gracious enough to respond. However, it was pretty much what was expected and she said that the performers and music were already set for this event and already in rehearsal. But she would give the song a listen when she got the chance.


Days passed. The world was electric and buzzing with Obama and even here in Stockholm everything felt so much lighter through what is usually a tough time struggling with the winter's darkness. Suddenly, maybe a week before the big gala, Jon receives word from Cyndee that they will in fact use the song in the Inauguration Gala event, but unfortunately Jon would not be able to perform it himself.


We were both beside ourselves! Jon had done it, he got through! He was put on the guestlist at the Concert House, the venue where the Noble Prize Ceremonies have been held and he asked me to accompany him with the extra seat. I met Jon at the entrance, surrounded by Sweden's finest, all dressed in their ballroom best; tuxedos evening gowns. It felt like entering a fairytale; Cinderella, but at the stroke of midnight we would both turn back into pumpkins. We took our seats way up in the balcony, with a clear view of the stage and felt a little out of place, knew absolutely nobody around us, but Jon had a purpose there...


There were some other musician friends of ours involved in the show; Chuck Anthony with Blacknuss, Eric Bibb, but I'm not going to lie; I recall very little of any of the performances that night. Our adrenalin was pumping and we were just focused on the celebration of Barack Obama becoming the 44th President and Jon's song. Jon was not informed or given any indication of when the song would be performed and I could see Jon hold his breath slightly at the end of every number in anticipation. We sat there for what was like a few hours, not even thinking of the possibility of getting up to use the toilet. We spoke very little during the event, only responding to each other with our telepathic, Brooklyn facial gestures.

 

There was a point where we both got the sense that maybe there was a change, or because of time Jon's song got bumped off. It's been known to happen.. Then Cyndee announces that she wants all the performers from this night to join her on stage, the drums then kicked in to a little groove and Cyndee says "Yesterday was a very special day in the United States, it was Martin Luther King Day!". The huge overhead screen then projected a beautiful photo of Martin Luther King Jr.


Jon immediately grabs my hand HARD and won't let go. Cyndee says to the exuberant packed house;
"We're gonna honor Dr. King and everybody before him with a song called Made It To The Mountain, can we get the text up there? Just throw your hands in the air and climb! You got to work for it!" She then starts to sing; "JUST THROW YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR AND CLIMB, CLIMB, CLIMB, THROW YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR". A gospel choir immediately joins in as she beckons to the crowd "sing with me!". Everyone in the house then starts singing with the choir, along with all the esteemed music guests. Cyndee then states, "You know it now... THANK YOU JON!" and suddenly as if in one levitating move, everyone was all on their feet and chanting this chorus written by Jon Ben Berger in beautiful harmony, including myself and Jon! Cyndee then broke into the main text of the song and the whole Concert House was just alive and connected to the world, like I'd never experienced.

 

"He made it to the mountain, he knew it was right there, He made it to the mountain, he knew it was right there, Well he made it to the mountain yes he did, he took a lot of us along the way, Well he made it to the mountain cause he tried, and he never stopped going, never stopped. Just throw your hands in the air and climb, climb, climb, just throw your hands in the air..."

 

Everyone there was clapping and stomping and singing in unison with their whole life. The Concert House was transformed into a GOSPEL CHURCH! Jon Ben Berger was literally glowing, and I don't think his feet were actually touching the ground. We both had tears of joy streaming down our faces.


This was the grand finale of the historic Obama Celebration, on the day of his inauguration and the song just seemed to go on endlessly. The chorus "JUST THROW YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR AND CLIMB, CLIMB, CLIMB..." went on and on as Cyndee thanked everyone for being there and continued onward like a mantra, echoing through the building.


Jon Ben Berger did it! I witnessed his relentless values and mission to use his music to be part of great change in the world become the soundtrack for one of the most significant events here in Sweden; honoring Barack Obama! It felt like Jon had punched a hole in the universe and everything he believed possible that was great about the power of music and change, spilled out and manifested on this night.


I have never been prouder or more in awe of anyone!

 

//Brian Kramer

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