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Romney's opening acts: Taylor Hicks, BeBe Winans

3:55 PM, Aug 30, 2012   |    comments
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By Susan Davis, USA TODAY

TAMPA - If Mitt Romney can't bring the house to its feet tonight on his own, Frank Breeden is here to help.

"We just love to see the camera shots of people singing and dancing," said the Washington, D.C.-based literary agent and entertainment director at the 2012 Republican convention. He has lined up Christian group Seven, American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and gospel and R&B singer BeBe Winans as the musical lineup leading up to Romney's acceptance speech tonight.

Hicks will perform Takin' it to the Streets, and Winans will perform, America America.

"We just knew it will be great night. On every night, but especially on the nominee's night, you want to make it really strong," Breeden said. He organized the musical acts for George W. Bush's 2004 convention in New York. He said he received "more pitches this time than ever in recent memory" to play at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "I think it's Mitt Romney, I really do. I've had so many people tell me they just really like him," he said.

No one has ever characterized Romney as rock n' roll, but Breeden noted he's shown some of his musical preferences on the campaign trail, where Kid Rock's anthem Born Free is in heavy rotation.

Asked what he's learned about Romney's musical tastes he said: "He comes from a place where he appreciates a very rich and deep esthetic. You'll see some wonderful orchestral textures" in tonight's musical program.

"We have been really strong in country and the Christian community, contemporary Christian and gospel," he said. The convention has included music from the Oak Ridge Boys, 3 Doors Down, former Saturday Night Live musical director G.E. Smith leading the house band and - almost -- Lynyrd Skynyrd, who were forced to cancel because of a hurricane threat.

Artists who play the convention stage volunteer their time but their travel costs are covered, Breeden said. For Hicks, playing the convention was a no-brainer. "For me personally and professionally I think this is a wonderful opportunity to be a part of history," Hicks said in an interview. "And when you look back on it through your career, you can say you performed and opened up for a possible American president, and it's an honor."

Hicks said there is a risk to performing in a partisan atmosphere. "You always run that risk anytime you perform in a political arena," but he offered praised for the GOP ticket. "I think Romney is a great family man and I think he represents the good old fashioned values of America."

Breeden acknowledged partisan divisions in the music industry. "Music is no different than any other sector of life, it's got one of each," he said, "When I call someone and say, 'Hey, would you like to perform at our convention?' we certainly do some topical research on them so we'll know if they've been very vocal against our party or our nominee."

But, really, it's less about politics than making sure the convention hall looks and feels like it's having a good time. "First of all, it's entertainment," he said, "And it's no more complicated than it's fun."

USA TODAY

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