WASHINGTON – “Sing your butt off, or work your butt off, or whatever you do, do it until your butt comes off,” first lady Michelle Obama told students at a White House “Women of Soul” workshop Thursday morning featuring Patti LaBelle, Melissa Etheridge and Janelle Monae.
Fifteen students from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, and 27 students from Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, were among 124 from around the country who participated in the interactive session labeled “I’m Every Woman: The History of Women in Soul.”
“It was very inspiring. Honestly I didn’t know much about soul music and today it really brought what it was to me,” said Eli Promisel, a 10th grader at Winston Churchill High School. “It was very, very interesting, very cool.”
LaBelle, Etheridge and Monae, who were also scheduled to appear in a concert on Thursday evening accompanied by the legendary songstress Aretha Franklin, and high profile artists Jill Scott, Ariana Grande, and Tessanne Chin, shared their experiences and fielded questions from the students on their music and how fame has affected their lives.
“It is a unique opportunity and the kids get a chance to appreciate the influence of art on history,” said Beth Shevitz, a social studies teacher at Sherwood High School.
The workshop, marking Women’s History Month, was organized by The Grammy Museum and is the seventh educational workshop the White House has hosted in collaboration with its “In Performance at the White House” concert series.
Thursday’s concert was to be streamed live at WhiteHouse.gov/live and broadcast April 7 on PBS.
In her opening remarks, Obama told the students that soul music makes you move no matter who you are or where you are from.
“Sometimes it makes your hips move. Sometimes it makes you rock your head,” Obama said. “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 is always from the heart.”
The first lady encouraged students to take advantage of being at the White House and not to be afraid to ask questions of the three artists.
“Stand up and use your voice and ask a question. Don’t be shy. And learn something. Be open and take in whatever you can, and then use it to be the best you can be,” Obama said.
Previous workshops include “The Sound of Young America: The History of Motown,” “At the Crossroad: A History of the Blues in America,” “Music that Inspired the Movement: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement,” and “Soulsville, USA: The History of Memphis Soul.”
The program, ending with an impromptu concert with LaBelle belting out “The Lord’s Prayer,” Etheridge singing “Stormy Weather,” and Monae performing “Victory,” had the students bopping and swaying to the music.
“It was amazing. The singers were great,” Promisel said.