Popular women of Soul – Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Janelle Monáe, and Jill Scott and contemporary artists Tessanne Chin, Melissa Etheridge, and Ariana Grande with Greg Phillinganes as music director were the 12th “In Performance at the White House” honorees under the Obama administration, on March 6.
The artists were celebrated by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during the event.
“When Aretha Franklin first walked into Fame studio in 1967 most of the other musicians had never heard her sing live before. When they did one of them said the floors rumbled and the walls shook, my brain shook. It was magic,” President Obama said as he introduced her. “So my advice to everyone tonight is simple, hang on. The Queen of Soul is in the building, if she blows your mind it’ll be okay.”
The appearances by Franklin and other legendary and contemporary women in music, accompanied an interactive student workshop hosted by the First Lady called “I’m Every Woman: The History of Women in Soul.”
One hundred twenty four students from cities across the nation like New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Waiʻanae, HI; Washington, D.C.; Memphis, TN; Cleveland, MS; Eddyville, OR; Minneapolis, MN; New York, NY; Oakland, CA; ; and Potomac and Sandy Spring, MD took part in the workshop.
The First Lady encouraged the middle, high school, and college students, ensuring they heed the lessons and words of wisdom they heard from the artists and took advantage of the experience.
“To all of you young people here, I want you to listen to those lessons — not just the ones I read, but the ones you’re going to hear from these women when they talk to you,” she said to the students. “Embrace what makes you unique. Take some risks. Please, take some risks. Find your own voice and be proud of it. And then, sing your butt off. Or work your butt off. Or whatever you do, do it until your butt comes off.”
In addition to encouragement from the First Lady and legendary women like Patti Labelle and Jill Scott the students received an in-depth lesson about soul music.
Executive Director of The GRAMMY Museum® in Los Angeles, Robert Santelli, will educate the students on the origins of soul music in America, and the influence it’s had in American culture, infiltrating social settings in the 1950s and 1960s and impacting the women’s rights, and it’s unique elements and sound.
“Soul music is about reaching and touching people on a human level,” said President Obama quoting Jill Scott.
Other performers previously honored by the Obamas at the White House during the series include Stevie Wonder, Carole King, and Sir Paul McCartney. These latest performances by powerful, soulful American women are the first in the month of March to honor inspirational women in music during this Women’s History Month.
The First Lady made sure the students in attendance were inspired and learned from the experiences of the honorees, “If you pair those lessons with a good education, if you challenge yourself in school, get that degree or professional training…then, you can become a great artist or an entrepreneur or a scientist or anything else that you want to be in this world,” she said.
“That’s the story of anyone who has ever been successful — whether it’s Barack or me, or your parents and teachers…At one time or another, we all had to find our own voices and show the world what we have inside.”
Before leaving the podium, the First Lady left the students with a few words of wisdom, “Make sure you ask questions. Don’t be afraid. This is your home. This is your house, so treat it that way. Take some risks now, stand up and use your voice and ask a question. Don’t be shy. And learn something. Be open to take in whatever you can, and then use it to be the best that you can be.”
The event will be streamed live on March 6 at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted on Monday, April 7 at 9:00 p.m. on PBS for the public. It will broadcast again at a later date at U.S Department of Defense locations around the world for men and women in the service.