Throughout their nearly 60-year careers, Fred Cash and Sam Gooden have seen many things, met many people and accomplished more than they had a right to dream of as young boys growing up in Chattanooga.
As members of the Impressions, the two have been inducted into the Rock and Roll and Vocal Group halls of fame, traveled the world over several times, been asked to sing on records by people like Eric Clapton and sold tons of records themselves.
But when the White House called last month to ask if they would like to stop by for a visit, they say it marked the high point of their long and fruitful careers.
"It just don't get no better than that," Cash says. "It was just an honor that put a cap on my career. I missed the opportunity to meet Martin Luther King, and this was the next best thing."
Even the big, gold-rimmed shaded glasses under Cash's ball cap could not cover the huge grin on his face as he recounted their visit on Oct. 6. For Gooden, the fact that the president of the United States not only knew who they were, but took time out of his schedule to meet with them privately was very humbling and meaningful.
"I've never met a cooler guy than that president," Gooden says. "He is running the country, but he took time to talk to us."
Both Cash and Gooden have made Chattanooga their homes after living and working in Chicago, where the Impressions were formed in 1958. The original group featured Gooden, Arthur and Richard Brooks, Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler. Cash joined after Butler left in 1960.
They became known not only for their smooth harmonies but for their socially conscious lyrics. Early hits included "For Your Precious Love," "Gypsy Woman," "It's All Right" and "People Get Ready." Their 1964 hit "Keep on Pushing" was used by the Obama campaign during their second election.
"We were supposed to go to the White House back during the second election, but we had booked studio space in Atlanta to record, and we had to do that," Cash says.
"To know that 'Keep on Pushing' is the No. 2 song on his favorites playlist is special. No. 1 is the Al Green song 'So in Love With You.' That's good company."
The two were invited, along with the 2016 Stanley Cup champions the Pittsburgh Penguins, to meet Obama and, after sitting through his visit with the hockey team, they were invited into a private room for a few minutes with the president.
Gooden says the president, who is from Chicago, asked if they were from Pittsburgh, too.
"We said, 'No man, we did most of our work in Chicago.' He laughed and said he knew that and was kidding. We joked around and then took some pictures. He was cool."
"He told us he was proud of us," Cash says, "and we said, 'We're proud of you.'"
"He's a super guy to stand there and kid and laugh and talk with us. When we finished, he just said, 'I'll see you guys later.' It is something I will cherish. We've done a lot of things, like getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but this man runs the whole country. This was the best thing that's ever happened to me."
The Impressions continue to travel and perform, though not as much as even a couple of years ago. Next year they are booked for shows in London, Baltimore, Philadelphia, California and then here for a benefit show that has not been finalized.
"That might be it for me," Cash says. "I've done everything I wanted to do, and I want to stay home and cool out and enjoy my life."
Both Cash and Gooden say their longevity can be credited to several things, including living here among old friends and family.
"God has blessed us," Gooden says. "We are able to sing in the same key today as we always have. But we stopped drinking long ago, don't smoke and no drugs."
Cash says they also managed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that have befallen so many other talented acts — jealousy among band members, bad management decisions and labels that went out of business.
"We had to avoid a lot of sharks along the way," he says. "We just tried to keep it in the lane."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.