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Soul Music Pervades the White House

Barrington M. Salmon | 3/12/2014, 3 p.m.
First lady Michele Obama greets students who attended a workshop titled "I'm Every Woman: The History of Women in Soul" in the White House State Dining Room on March 6. Grammy Museum Executive Director Robert Santelli (seated, at left) moderated a discussion with artists (from left) Melissa Etheridge, Janelle Monae and Patti LaBelle. Photo by Shevry Lassiter

Monáe, 28, grew up in Kansas City, Kan., from humble beginnings. Obama said Monáe's mother worked as a janitor, her stepfather worked for the post office, and her father was a garbage collector.

"I did living room training … on the couch," she said. "My sister was always annoyed by my singing. But I always loved communicating through song. For example, someone once said I gave them goosebumps and I wanted to keep doing that. Music is in my DNA. It's who I am."

LaBelle said she truly enjoys doing what she loves.

"I'm 69 so I'm like the Original Gangsta," the Grammy-winning singer and author joked. "Way back in the day, I was so shy. I used to sing with a broom. My mother said ‘Baby, you need to sing in the church. And I did…'"

"It didn't cost me anything to sing."

As a child, the 52-year-old Etheridge said, she listened to an AM station which played Tammy Wynette, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.

"I didn't say I can't do it because I'm white," Etheridge said. "I'm a human being and wanted to express this, as the first lady said. It goes past skin, age, everything … it's what keeps you going, gets you up in the morning. You gotta dream."