REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT MOTOWN MUSIC SERIES STUDENT WORKSHOP
State Dining Room
1:35 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Well, isn’t this exciting?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. Well, hello, everyone. It is great to have you all here today. This is really good.
Let me start by recognizing the three or four gentlemen who have joined me on stage: our dear friend, John Legend, who has just been amazing in so many ways; Mr. Smokey Robinson, who needs no introduction, who has been such a dear friend — (applause); Mr. Berry Gordy, who — (applause) — just is; and Mr. Bob Santelli from the Grammy Museum, who’s going to get us started. (Applause.)
Thank you. Thank you all so much. It means so much to us. I know it means so much to all these students to have you here to spend this kind of quality time. This doesn’t happen often, you do realize that.
Not only getting these gentlemen on the stage together, but the fact that you all have this kind of access, and you’re sitting where, in the White House — (laughter) — that’s something else.
But of course I want to thank all of you, all the students, for coming out today. I’m excited because you all are coming from all over the country, from schools all over the country, and of course from my hometown, Chicago. (Cheering.) We’ve got some of my neighborhood schools. We’ve got DuSable and Kenwood and Hyde Park — I’m not going to go into it because I’m going to leave out a few, but we are so excited to have you all here.
And I also understand that you’re going to get to stay a little bit and see some of the performance, as well. So hopefully this is an exciting visit to Washington for you. It is a thrill for us to have you here.
When we moved in this — to this house a couple years ago, we wanted to open these doors as wide as we could, especially for young people like you. And this music series is one of the ways that we’re doing that. We have held workshops for all different types of music: classical, country, we’ve done some jazz, we’ve done some Broadway, we’ve even done some music from the Civil Rights movement. We did that last February for Black History Month. It was a wonderful event. And we did something for modern dance. So we’re starting to move into other genres, as well.
We do all this because we believe that “the People’s House” shouldn’t be just a nickname. We believe that Prime Ministers and VIPs shouldn’t be the only ones who feel comfortable walking through these doors. We feel that everyone should feel like they belong here, sitting right here in the State Dining Room.
And I hope you realize through this experience that no one here is any different than you all are, whether that’s Smokey Robinson or John Legend or me or my husband, because we are all reflected in you. We see ourselves in you. I say that all the time when I am talking to young people. We were all sitting where you were at some point in time, if you can believe that. We were teenagers once. (Laughter.) Not so funny. We were! (Laughter.)
We went to some of the same high schools that you all did. We went to schools like you. We carried around backpacks. We didn’t have computers and iPods, but, you know, we talked to each other on the phone every now and then. We had to dial with the rotary dial — (laughter) — but things were a little different.
But we liked to hang out with our friends. We were into music. You know, I even used to know what the latest dances were and taught my brother. I don’t know that now.
But we had homework to do. And sometimes our parents embarrassed us, like we now embarrass our children. And growing up, we all had our own dreams. And that’s what today is about. It’s about the dreams of kids who grew up knowing that they had a song to sing, and that everyone will want to hear that song.
And it all started with Mr. Gordy in 1960. He was a young man in Detroit with a great idea. He wanted to be one of the very first African Americans to own a record label. So he got an $800 loan from his family — they owe you big time, right? — (laughter) — and started recording music out of his apartment.
And soon he bought a house to record from, and it became home to some of the most popular musicians in the country: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, the Supremes, the Jackson Five, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Supremes. Gladys Knight will be here soon, as well. And one of my personal favorites — I say this all the time — who? Who’s my favorite? Stevie Wonder, yes, indeed.
And as Motown rose, so did the forces of change in this country. During that time, it was the time of King and Kennedy, it was a time of marches and rallies and groundbreaking civil rights laws. And Motown’s music was so much more than just a soundtrack. It was a heartbeat.
As one of the members of The Four Tops once said, “Back in the ’60s, when we weren’t allowed to go certain places, our music crept into people’s homes … into their living rooms, their kitchens, their cars.”
Motown helped pave the way for people in this country to look at one another a little differently, because something changed when little girls all across the country saw Diana Ross on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was a change that happened. Something changed when teenagers turned up the volume on the Temptations song, no matter where they lived, in Birmingham or Boston, in Detroit or Denver.
Motown made music for all people, no matter what you looked like, no matter where you came from. And that is why we are so proud, my husband and I, to share Motown’s story as we continue to celebrate Black History Month. See, the people that we’re going to be talking about, that we’re going to hear from, that we’re going to listen to — the songs, the music — these are true trailblazers, because as you know, there wouldn’t be an Usher if there wasn’t a Smokey Robinson. You know, there wouldn’t be an Alicia Keys without a Gladys Knight.
But the thing that I want you all to remember is that nobody’s name is printed on the Billboard Top 10 at birth. Nobody is born into this. Neither Mr. Gordy nor Smokey Robinson were born into greatness or wealth. Diana Ross grew up in a housing project. And John Legend is the son of a seamstress and a factory worker. And they are good people.
But they’ve shown us that with enough hard work and a willingness to take some risks, anyone can make it. And this isn’t just true for careers in entertainment or sports. The Motown story is really a metaphor for life.
So whatever your passions are –- whether it’s business, or law, or science, teaching, social services –- with dedication and focus, there is truly nothing that you all can’t do. And if you ever doubt that, just look up on this stage for a second and remember what you can do.
So what I’m asking you all to do now is to really take full advantage of this opportunity, because I’m going to turn the stage over to these individuals who are going to make themselves available to you. So I want you all to ask questions. You don’t seem like a shy bunch, so — but take full advantage. Ask questions and find out about how they reached their dreams so that you can figure out some strategies for reaching yours.
Don’t be shy. Ignore the cameras. Hopefully — I don’t know if they’re leaving or not, but if they stay, just ignore them. (Laughter.) And make sure you get all that you can from these men.
And I’m going to leave because I’ve got other stuff to do, but I am so grateful to all of you for taking the time not just to be here this evening, but doing this, because this is really what it’s all about. It’s not this evening’s performance. It’s what’s going to happen in this room right now that makes this program so special.
So thank you all. And I want to introduce the man who’s going to get us started, Mr. Bob Santelli, who’s the Executive Director of the Grammy Museum. And I will see you guys doing great things, right?
MRS. OBAMA: All right, thank you, have fun. (Applause.)