First lady Michelle Obama paid tribute today to the artists of Memphis soul, a style of music with a “story uniquely its own.”
The White House is brimming with star power today, as music legends and contemporary artists prepare to perform for the latest installment of the “In Performance at the White House” series.
Before tonight’s concert, the first lady hosted students from across the country for a workshop with some of the musicians, including Sam Moore, Mavis Staples, Charlie Musselwhite, Ben Harper and Justin Timberlake.
“Watching you all’s faces: priceless,” the first lady joked of the crowd in the State Dining Room as the musicians walked onto the stage. “See, you never know what’s going to happen at the White House. OK, let’s breathe. Come on. Everyone, let’s breathe. Even the moms.”
Memphis created its “own brand of soul,” the first lady explained, thanks to performers like Otis Redding, The Staple Singers and, “of course, somebody my husband thinks he sounds like, the Reverend Al Green.”
“Let’s just tell him he does, OK?” she joked. “Since he is the president, we like to boost him up a little bit.”
The president showed off his vocal skills last year, when he wowed the crowd at a campaign stop by singing a few lines of Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
Today, the first lady told the students that the musicians’ success is a testament, not only to their talent, but to their hard work.
“For decades, these folks have been practicing until their fingers were numb and their voices were shot,” she said. “They’ve been in the studio for 12, 14 hours a day or more rehearsing and refining until they got every song just right.
“Sometimes that aspect of music isn’t always that much fun,” she said. “But I want to emphasize, and I think these people up here will back me up, that the only way for you to become the best musician you can be is pushing through those moments when something doesn’t seem fun, by spending hours in the practice room, repeating those scales, and drilling into that theory. And if you do all that, you do it over and over again, you might become a better performer than you ever imagined.”
In addition to the musicians who attended the workshop, tonight’s program will include performances by Alabama Shakes, William Bell, Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd, Queen Latifah, Cyndi Lauper and Joshua Ledet.