Remarks by the First Lady at Women of Soul Student Workshop
State Dining Room
11:02 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Isn’t this cool? (Applause.) Oh, my goodness! I’m thrilled. It’s exciting to have these fabulous ladies and this gentleman here. But I want to welcome you guys to the White House. (Applause.) We are doing our latest installment of something we call the White House Music Series. And we’re marking Women’s History Month by celebrating women with a whole lot of soul.
And I want to start by thanking the wonderfully talented women on stage with me. You guys, I don’t even -- you know who they are. We’ve got Janelle Monáe, who is now my child. (Applause.) She might as -- we might as well give her a room here because she’s here so much. (Laughter.) Melissa Etheridge, who is amazing. (Applause.) We’re thrilled to have her. And my other mother, the phenomenal Patti LaBelle. (Applause.) And I also want to thank my dear friend Bob Santelli from the GRAMMY Museum who is always here hosting these events. (Applause.) We couldn’t do these workshops without Bob and his team so we are, once again, grateful that he’s making this part of the Music Series possible.
And this part involves some of the most special guests who are here -- you guys. We have students from so many different parts of the country, this is really a diverse group -- Hawaii, Oregon, California, Minnesota and Ohio, Mississippi and Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, of course right here in D.C. You guys are from everywhere. (Applause.)
And just so that you know, we are in the State Dining Room. And this is where we host presidents and kings and queens and ambassadors and world leaders, and a lot happens in this room. And now we’re hosting you, and we’re so excited to have you here because this is really my favorite part of these Music Series. Tonight, we have a great concert that’s going to happen with a lot of fancy people that will show up, but today, these artists take time out of their day to be with you guys.
And it is fitting that we have such a diverse group of students for this event because today we’re celebrating the kind of music that makes you move no matter who you are or where you come from; music that taps into feelings and experiences that we all share -- love and heartbreak, pride and doubt, tragedy and triumph. It is called soul music -- can we say that? Soul music.
STUDENTS: Soul music.
MRS. OBAMA: Soul music. Sometimes it makes your hips move. Sometimes it makes you rock your head. (Laughter.) Sometimes it helps you just kick back and relax and soak it in. But no matter what form it comes in, you know this music always comes straight from the heart. You know you’re listening to someone who’s found her own unique voice, and isn’t afraid to show it to the world. And these women are perfect examples of just that.
For instance, Melissa says that when she first started writing songs, she wrote a few that helped her get through some struggles she was facing, songs that helped her get some things off of her chest. But she didn’t think anyone wanted to hear these songs, so when she was up on stage she’d mostly play those fun, bouncy melodies that she had heard on the radio that sounded oh, so wonderful.
But then, after one of the shows -- or many of the shows, folks started coming up and talking to her about those other songs, the ones she had written herself. And she said this about those songs, she said, “The songs that people responded to, they were always the songs that were deeply personal to me.” She said, “And I thought, ‘That must be the key –- if I can make my songs resonate with emotions and truthfulness.’” That is Melissa. She will tell you more about her world.
Then there’s Miss Patti La Belle. Her story, just short and sweet, before she’d won any Grammys or sold any records, Miss Patti LaBelle was the shyest little girl around. It is hard to believe that. (Laughter.) She was afraid to even ask her teacher if she could use the bathroom.
MS. LABELLE: That’s true. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: And she never dreamed of singing in front of people unless she was part of a full choir. But once she mustered up enough courage to sing a solo in church and she got a standing ovation. And as she says now -- she says, “I still have a little bit of shyness. I look back and say, thank God I got through it and took chances and sang my butt off.” (Laughter.)
And then there’s Janelle Monáe. When she was growing up, her mom was a janitor, her stepfather worked for the post office, and her father was a garbage collector. When Janelle was first trying to make it in New York, she worked a side job as a maid to make ends meet. When she moved to Atlanta, she worked at an office supply store. And today, even though she’s a huge star, she’s never lost sight of where she came from. Now, wherever she goes, she almost always wears a black and white jacket and pants. And she calls this her “uniform,” and it’s a tribute to her mother and so many other folks who taught her the value of hard work, folks who wore a uniform to work every single day. And she says now, “I didn’t have to change who I was. I didn’t have to become perfect, because I’ve learned through my journey that perfection is often the enemy of greatness. Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others feel uncomfortable.”
So 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. 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. (Laughter.) Or work your butt off. Or whatever you do, do it until your butt comes off. (Laughter.) Okay, that quote is going to be kind of funny in the papers. I already know it. My communications people are like, what? (Laughter.) But you guys all know what I meant -- be good at what you do.
And if you pair those lessons with a good education, if you challenge yourself in school, get that degree or professional training -- but you’ve got to do more than just graduate from high school. That’s not good enough anymore, so you’ve got to go beyond. Then, you can become a great artist or an entrepreneur or a scientist or anything else that you want to be in this world. But your education is key. That’s the story of anyone who has ever been successful -- whether it’s Barack or me, or your parents and teachers, or these three women up here today. At one time or another, we all had to find our own voices and show the world what we have inside.
And I really want you all to take that to heart, because part of giving you these experiences is so that you understand how special you are. And there are millions of young people like you all. And because we get to highlight you here, we get to show the world and remind the world that our future lies with you all. But we need you to be ready. We need you to be focused. We need you to take your education seriously. And we need you to not be afraid to work hard. You will fail. We have all failed at something, and it’s been big, embarrassing failures. But we all rise above it, and we expect that for you all.
So this is the first in many wonderful experiences I know you all will have, so take advantage of it. We’re going to get rid of the press so that you feel comfortable. Shake it off. 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.
We are so excited to have you here. I know you’re going to have a great time with these women. They are excited. As Patti LaBelle just said, she said, I am honored to be here with these students.
And that's how we all feel. We are honored to be in your presence. Just keep doing what you do. Be good. Be great, all right? So I’m going to leave you. I’m going to go do some more work. And well, look, look. (Laughter.) Okay, you’re in good hands, all right?
Thanks for coming to the White House. You guys have fun. (Applause.)
11:12 A.M. EST