SXSW Music Keynote: First Lady Michelle Obama

“It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”

The night before her Wednesday keynote speech, first lady Michelle Obama unveiled “This Is for My Girls,” an all-star anthem commissioned to benefit her Let Girls Learn initiative, which focuses on access to education for girls worldwide.

First Lady Michelle Obama (photo by Jana Birchum)

Chloe and Halle, two young sisters recently signed to Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, opened the first lady's SXSW Music session with the song’s first public live performance. Meanwhile, Obama’s fellow panelists included legendary songwriter Diane Warren, who penned the song, and powerhouse MC Missy Elliott, who raps on “This Is for My Girls.” Wednesday’s panel moderator Queen Latifah has dominated music and acting for decades now, which left fourth panelist and One Tree Hill actor Sophia Bush as the only question mark.

Latifah was careful to pepper in music-related questions about favorite albums; FLOTUS is a big Stevie Wonder fan, and Latifah named her ultimate LP as Prince’s Purple Rain. While discussing her upcoming departure from the White House, Obama even broke into the chorus of Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” That mirrored the current state of music perfectly: Nostalgia for bygone eras.

Despite the wildly successful careers of the five women onstage, Obama’s main message is that you don’t need to be first lady to harness power as a woman and effect social change. As she detailed her White House work with children, including healthy eating and education efforts, Obama emphasized that she’ll continue to focus on those initiatives.

“We’ve got to keep working on these issues,” she said. “They don’t go away in a presidential term.”

Plenty of girl power to go around, Obama also highlighted the importance of men signing on to the cause for equality.

“There are a lot of men-only tables going on … and the only people who can change it are the men at the table,” Obama explained, continuing with, “We need you men. Get it together.”

The first lady wasn’t the most obvious choice for SXSW Music, but her clear belief in music’s power to inspire women around the world highlighted a part of the industry that often gets overshadowed by sales numbers: the power of music for social good.

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Michelle Obama, SXSW, Queen Latifah, Diane Warren, Missy Elliott, Sophia Bush, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Boyz II Men, SXSW Music 2016

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