Remarks by the First Lady at the Gospel Music Student Workshop
11:04 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, looky here, look who we've got here. How are you guys doing?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you excited?
MRS. OBAMA: You a little nervous?
AUDIENCE: Yes. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Okay, relax, shake it off. (Laughter.) Okay, you're just in the White House. It happens all the time. (Laughter.) What have you all been doing since you got there? Just waiting? (Laughter.) Didn’t you do something yesterday? You shopped? (Laughter.) Walk -- a lot of walking? That's good. That's good. Too much? There’s no such thing as too much walking. Let's Move -- you remember that? (Laughter.)
Well, we're excited to have you here as we enjoy the latest edition of the White House Music Series. Yay for us. We're very excited. (Applause.) Today we are celebrating Gospel music. And we have some wonderful singers and songwriters who are going to participate in this conversation. We have Michelle Williams. (Applause.) We have Lyle Lovette. (Applause.) We have Darlene Love. (Applause.) Rodney Crowell. (Applause.) And Rhiannon Giddens is here. (Applause.)
And to lead the discussion, my dear, dear friend, who is -- he is there for us through all of this -- Bob Santelli from the Grammy Museum. Give Bob a hand. (Applause.)
But most importantly, we have all of you. You all are really the stars of this portion of the day. This is my favorite part of the music, so, yes, give yourselves a hand. Really. (Applause.)
We started doing these workshops because we work closely with the Grammy Museum. They have a wonderful education and outreach initiative. But you know we have this big concert tonight, and there are a lot of fancy people who are coming to see it. They’re diplomats and rich people and -- (laughter) -- and they go in the East Room. But we started thinking, well, when is there space for us to connect all these wonderful people to young people all across the country. You all should have the opportunity to connect with some of these entertainers and artists that come and visit.
So, with the help of the Grammy Museum, we have always paired a workshop like this where we invite young people like you guys from all over the country to have an opportunity to talk about the music that we're focused on, to meet some of the artists that we get to hear from tonight. Some of them do a little singing while they’re doing it. So it's really one of the most important and one of the most exciting parts about the Music Series -- that we get to open this house up to you all. And hopefully this experience feels special, because it's special for us.
We've got students here from Hawaii --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Whoo!
MRS. OBAMA: That's okay. (Laughter.) Shaka! (Laughter.) Let’s hear it! Yes, hometown.
California. (Applause.) New York is here. (Applause.) Got a little Jersey in the house. (Applause.) Mississippi is here. (Applause.) Tennessee. (Applause.) And our backyard --- Maryland and Virginia. (Applause.) So, pretty good representation.
Now, over the past few years, we have discussed everything from country to soul to classical music here at these workshops. And I'm really thrilled that we're really focusing on Gospel. It's something that I've wanted to do since we started, so we finally got it done. Because this music, Gospel music, has really played such an important role in our country’s history. It really has -- from the spirituals sung by slaves to the anthems that became the soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement, and to the hymns that millions of Americans sing every single day in churches all across the country.
For so many of us, these songs are some of the very first melodies we ever hear. That was certainly true for me. I come from a very music-loving family. My grandfather -- my maternal grandfather was a big, huge jazz collector from way back. He used to wire his house for sound. And he played jazz every single day, all day, 24/7. And his sister, my Aunt Robbie, she was the director of the church choir, and so she taught piano lessons to a lot of the kids in the neighborhood. And she taught those lessons in our home. So I would hear music lessons every day. My mother and some of her sisters were members of the church choir.
So those are some of the earliest memories for me of having exposure to music. And it moved me so much that I wanted to start taking piano lessons at the age of 4. I didn’t keep it up -- so I hope you all don’t follow my lead on that. But it's important to me. Gospel music is what fuels my love of music, in general.
So I'm excited to be hosting this here. And I know that for many folks across the country and around the world, there’s nothing like hearing a choir sing an old Gospel classic. When you hear that music, it gets your feet tapping and your heart pumping. It gets you ready and prepared to take in that sermon for the day. It’s what helps connect us to God, to that Higher Power. And for so many, when times are dark and when you’re struggling, Gospel music is that ray of hope and it gives you that strength.
And I know that that’s the role that Gospel music plays for so many -- because when you really think about it, we all are going to face some kind of struggle one day. We all do. No one on this stage is exempt from struggle. We’re all up here because of some kind of struggle or dark thing we had to overcome. And I hope that the folks up here will share some of their stories with you.
But I’d like to take a moment just to share a bit of Darlene Love’s story right now, because Darlene got her first break back in 1962? I may get dates wrong, but she sang the lead on the song called, “He’s a Rebel,” which was a song that went to the top of the charts. But something that happened to her that happened to a lot of artists, a lot of African American artists, is that the producer released the record under someone else’s name. And so nobody even knew that it was Darlene’s voice providing the power behind that song.
And even as Darlene went on to sing backup on some of the biggest hits in the ‘60s -- like “Chain Gang,” “Rockin’ Robin,” and “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” -- her name remained completely unknown -- which is the case for many backup singers and great singers alike. They were unknown voices. And as the years passed, her career slowed down, and by the early ‘80s, she was completely out of music and she was cleaning houses. She was cleaning homes and working at a dry cleaning shop to get by.
But one day, while she was cleaning someone else’s bathroom, Darlene said she heard one of her songs on the radio, and that’s when it hit her that she needed to get back to her passion -- that she had gone so far away from what she cared about and what moved her -- that song woke her up.
So she started singing again. She started singing on a cruise ship. And then she wrote her own album. And slowly but surely, she started getting more and more recognition for all those classics. And they did a beautiful documentary of backup singers that I hope you all will see if you haven’t seen it. But Darlene is featured in that documentary, which highlights all the amazing backup singers that make the music of our day. And now she is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, finally earning her place among the legends. (Applause.)
Now, hopefully you go even further into your story for these young people. But one thing, one line I want to use that she quoted -- she said about her journey -- she said, “Anytime I got knocked back, I just looked at that as a hurdle I had to get over.”
And I share that with you because I want you all to know that you all have to prepare yourselves for those hurdles. That’s the main thing I want young people who come through this house to understand, is that life is inevitably filled with hurdles. You are going to fail, and fail big, a lot. But the best way to prepare yourself for recovering from that failure is to get your education. And I say that everywhere I go because if there is anything you all need to be doing right now, it's taking your education seriously.
And seriously means that every day you show up strong. You go to class. You do your work. You get the best grades you can get. You graduate from high school. And you have to do more. You have to go to college or go to a junior college. You have to. The jobs of the future are going to require you to be prepared. You’ve got to get some advanced training if you don’t do that. There are many paths you can follow, but you’ve got to make that happen for yourselves.
So if you’re passionate about anything -- whether it’s music, or business, or medicine, or rocket science -- school is your pathway. Education is your pathway. If it's music, you’ve got to have a fallback plan.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That’s right. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Having a fallback plan helps.
But don’t get discouraged when you hit those hurdles. And I'm sure many of you have already felt like you’ve hit some hurdles already. But we all have done it. And the power is your ability to recover and to be resilient. That’s what makes people great. It's not that they’ve just glided through without any form of struggle. The people who are successful are the people who can get back up when they’re knocked down.
So don’t be discouraged. Just keep working hard. It is all hard work, but it is absolutely worth it.
And I hope that you learn from the folks on this stage. That’s why we wanted them here. We wanted to talk about the genre, but we also hope that you walk away a little more inspired to be as great as you can be. Because we’re counting on you. The President, First Lady, we’re all counting on you to take over that baton and to be the leaders of tomorrow. And you all can do it.
So use this time here wisely. Relax. Get comfortable. Ask a lot of questions. Do not be shy. This is your home, and we are all here because we believe in you. This is the best part of the day, so take advantage of it. Okay? Don’t be shy. All right?
Now, I have to go, because they make me work all day long. (Laughter.) So I'm going to turn it over to Bob and to all our performers and our entertainers and songwriters. And I hope you guys have a terrific time. Thank you for being here. Keep working hard. We love you guys. (Applause.)
END 11:16 A.M. EDT