Presidents and outspoken celebrities put politics aside to honor George H.W. Bush’s life

After receiving “The Prez” guitar - a present - from Sam Moore (right) of the famed Sam and Dave soul duo, President George H.W. Bush, left, plays the instrument with Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater on Jan. 21, 1989. Joyce Moore, Sam’s wife, co-produced the inaugural event at The Washington Convention Center.
After receiving “The Prez” guitar - a present - from Sam Moore (right) of the famed Sam and Dave soul duo, President George H.W. Bush, left, plays the instrument with Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater on Jan. 21, 1989. Joyce Moore, Sam’s wife, co-produced the inaugural event at The Washington Convention Center. The Washington Post

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when respect, even fondness, for a president crossed both sides of the aisle.

Perhaps no greater example could be the unlikely, but reportedly warm, friendship shared between Republican President George H.W. Bush and his successor, Democrat William Jefferson Clinton.

Both teamed on humanitarian projects years after both had served their three combined terms in the White House. Soon after President Bush’s death Friday night at age 94, Clinton released a statement through the Clinton Foundation that read, in part:

“I will be forever grateful for the friendship we formed. ... Few Americans have been — or will ever be — able to match President Bush’s record of service to the United States and the joy he took every day from it,” Clinton said. “He never stopped serving. I saw it up close, working with him on tsunami relief in Asia and here at home after Hurricane Katrina. His remarkable leadership and great heart were always on full display. I am profoundly grateful for every minute I spent with President Bush and will always hold our friendship as one of my life’s greatest gifts.”

That kind of closeness was shared in Hollywood among celebrities, too, who aren’t generally known for straying outside the box of their political beliefs.

Take singer-actress Barbra Streisand who has long supported Democratic candidates, dating back to the day she sang for President John F. Kennedy early in her career in 1963 to her recently released album, “Walls,” which has been called her “anti-Trump” album.

But on her 2016 tour, she welcomed George and Barbara Bush backstage to her concert in Texas and had shared and posted many kind words about the warmth she felt toward the former First Couple.

Friday night, she shared the photo again on Twitter. “Two years ago this week, I was honored to invite our 41st President and First Lady to my first ever concert in Texas. They came to my dressing room before the show and we exchanged gifts. I’m glad he and Barbara are together again. RIP.”

Miami’s Gloria Estefan, a Kennedy Center Honors recipient during the Trump administration in 2017, used Instagram to share a warm memory of meeting President Bush at the White House with her husband Emilio and their son Nayib.

“The first time we met this gentle, kind man that was George H. W. Bush, he spent 45 minutes speaking to our son, Nayib, about his beloved wife and family and the inner workings of the White House. He left an indelible impression and our admiration grew with each opportunity we had to reconnect with him and his adored Barbara. Rest In Peace, Mr. President, you will be missed and never forgotten,” she wrote.

Producer Emilio Estefan also posted on Instagram.

“We not only lost a great president but a great man,” he wrote. “Our hearts and thoughts are with you all during this time. Thank you Mr. President for your service to our country and the honor of knowing you and your beautiful family.”

Soul music legend Sam Moore and his wife Joyce, who both live in Miami-Dade, had a long association with the first President Bush. Joyce coproduced a show at the Washington Convention Center for Bush’s 1989 inaugural that featured Sam Moore on stage with the president and former Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater. Bush and Atwater both have guitars as Moore clutches his customary vocal mic.

“I am personally devastated by the loss of this great man, George HW Bush who was, and always will remain, one of the greatest American patriots and presidents,” Joyce Moore told the Miami Herald Saturday morning.

“I have the great thrill of meeting him, getting to know him and Barbara and the rest of the family over the years and I couldn’t be more proud. I know he must be resting in heaven with Barbara and the little girl they loved and lost, Robin. The loss is real personal for both of us,” Joyce Moore said.

Sam Moore, in a statement later in the day, called Bush “one of the most honorable, decent men our country ever had serve as its president.”

In addition to “The Celebration for Young Americans” inauguration event his wife co-produced in January 1989, the “Soul Man” singer recalled performing for the president at the Bushes’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration alongside the Oak Ridge Boys in 1995.

Moore also played the One America Appeal hurricane relief concert at Texas A&M University in October 2017. The One America Appeal fund raiser was a combined effort of the five former U.S. living presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama to help with relief efforts in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Veteran country group the Oak Ridge Boys released a lengthy statement through their publicist praising Bush. It read, in part:

“[H]ow about the fact that he loved country music and for decades we, The Oak Ridge Boys, were among his favorites,” the group said. “We started to sing for him in 1982 when he was VP, and we have been singing for him ever since. We have performed our songs on Air Force One, in Kennebunkport many times, and at his home in Houston, whenever we were in the area. We have performed at the White House and several of his key birthday celebrations.

“But more than any of that, he was a friend,” the vocal group said. “A good friend … a dear friend… we would even call him and sing to him when he wasn’t feeling well and Barbara swore that we had a healing effect on our FRIEND. To say he will be missed is an understatement so let us just say that we will miss our friend. We have laughed together, shared tears together, fished together, hiked together, shared a lot of lobster together, and sang together. Yes… he fancied himself to be quite the bass singer. We loved George Bush #41. Our families loved him. We are better people and, yes, better Americans for having ridden with him.”

Bush Oak ridge Boys.jpg
The Oak Ridge Boys and band with President George H.W. Bush at the White House during a Congressional barbecue picnic. Kathy Gangwisch

President Donald Trump, who ran against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for the Republican nomination in 2016, tweeted: “President George H.W. Bush led a long, successful and beautiful life. Whenever I was with him I saw his absolute joy for life and true pride in his family. His accomplishments were great from beginning to end. He was a truly wonderful man and will be missed by all!”

Trump’s Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, also issued his statement on Twitter.

“America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush,” Obama wrote. “While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Our thoughts are with the entire Bush family tonight – and all who were inspired by George and Barbara’s example.”

The outspoken Cher, a frequent Trump critic, initially sparked a bit of social media controversy when she simply tweeted: “Poppy Bush Gone” around 1 a.m. Saturday morning. Many found it disrespectful. The entertainer quickly responded in a caps-on Tweet: “Much of my life I heard George H.W. Bush referred to as Poppy Bush. Didn’t mean to take liberties or be disrespectful.”

In response to a Twitter user’s question on how she would compare the 41st president to the current 45th president she went on to praise the senior Bush’s service to the United States. “Poppy Bush fought for us in WWII and was a war hero. Didn’t agree with [his] politics, but he loved his country, his family and was a patriot.”

And then Cher, being Cher, slammed Trump in the same post. Not all things change.

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Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.