Boyz II Men, Stevie Wonder And Empowering Young Women: The Highlights Of Michelle Obama’s SXSW Keynote

Today (March 16), the First Lady of the United States arrived at Austin Convention Centre to open the music portion of this year’s SXSW festival with her own keynote speech.

Joined by Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, actress Sophia Bush and songwriter Diane Warren, Michelle Obama discussed her Let Girls Learn initiative, which aims to help 62 million girls across the world who don’t have access to education. Obama also talked about her own experiences growing up, treated the crowd to a song and spoke of the music that has influenced her. Here’s the biggest talking points and highlights from the session.

Obama isn’t going to run for President
Unlike former First Lady Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama won’t be popping up in whatever sitcom is cool when the next presidential election comes around. Nope, the current FLOTUS has no interest in running for President, despite how much she says she’s enjoyed her duties supporting husband Barack in the White House.


Asked what she’d miss most about being First Lady, she talked about the young people she gets to meet and interact with every day. “I’ll keep doing that for the rest of my life, but not as President,” she explained. “I will not run for president. Here’s one reason why – I’ve got two young people at home. Being the daughters of the President isn’t easy and they’ve handled it with grace and poise, but no. You don’t have to be President of the United States to do wonderful marvellous things.”

FLOTUS surprised everyone by breaking out into song
Early on in the session, the Obama family having to leave the White House in the coming months was alluded to. Obama’s response? Break into a little bit of Boyz II Men, of course. With a smile on her face, she sang a line from ‘It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday’, which was greeted by cheers and applause from the audience. Turns out her singing voice isn’t all that bad so if she changed her mind about running for President, she could always collaborate with her good friend Beyoncé to try and sway the voters.

The Let Girls Learn campaign is rooted in Obama’s own personal experiences
The Let Girls Learn initiative aims to help the 62 million girls across the world who don’t complete school due to lack of resources, funds, transport and many other reasons. Obama might be the First Lady of the US these days, but during the keynote she spoke of her childhood and showed she’s got more of a personal connection to the struggles young women from less privileged backgrounds face growing up.

“Growing up as a black girl on the south side of Chicago, expectations were limited,” she explained at one point. “People were always telling me what I shouldn’t do, how far I should dream. I wanted to prove the doubters wrong. I still see the effects of that doubting on young people, particularly young girls. What I could do as a little girl was to try my best to control my own fate and now I’m trying to carry that over to those 62 million girls.”

‘This Is For My Girls’ is Diane Warren’s anthem of female empowerment
Songwriter Diane Warren has worked with heaps of the world’s biggest artists, including Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Beyoncé. Her latest song, though, is for the LGL campaign. It’s called ‘This Is For My Girls’ and features Missy Elliott, Zendaya, Janelle Monae, Kelly Clarkson and more.

Speaking about the track, Warren said she “wanted to write the best female empowerment song I knew how to write.” Elliott jumped in to list the empowering anthems she’d grown up on, like ‘Ladies’ Night’, and the affect those songs had on her. “The message [of ‘This Is For My Girls’] is important and I wanted to be part of it,” she said. “I’m so for records like that, that are uplifting and encouraging to people and young girls. We had so many of those records [growing up], but they made us feel empowered and I think we need more records like that.


Stevie Wonder was a big influence on Obama
When one audience member asked the panel which album had had the biggest influence on them, choices like Queen Latifah and The Beatles were cited. Obama, however, opted for Stevie Wonder‘s ‘Talking Book’, calling it the “first album of my whole life”.

“My granddad – we called him Southside because he lived on the south side of Chicago, not very imaginative – loved music,” she told the crowd. “He was a carpenter and collected jazz. He had turntables all around the house and reel-to-reels. I used to go to his house and play with his dog called Rex – again, not very imaginative – and play music with him.

“For my birthday, he bought me ‘Talking Book’ and I played it over and over and over again, until ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ and then I played that over and over and over again. [Wonder’s] songs talked about unity and love and peace. His songs are impacting and push you to think about how you could affect the world. Stevie all the way.”

Women’s voices are still missing in hip-hop
The audience question that received the most praise during the keynote was one from a male spectator asking what men could do to support and help their female counterparts. Sophia Bush applauded the enquirer and his attitude, and Queen Latifah gave an answer that led onto an interesting point about a lack of representation of women in hip-hop.

Discussing how she came up “in a crew full of boys”, Latifah said her peers “pushed me further and didn’t exclude me, so it made me better.” She also talked of the many phone calls her and Elliott apparently share, and the constant hot topic of their chats. “We talk about what’s missing in hip-hop,” she said. “Women is what’s missing in hip-hop. You’re not getting as diverse a sound as you should. When you remove women’s voices from anything, you are lacking. There are things that men can do that women can’t and we have to be realistic about it. There are lots of things women can do but men can’t, but there are so many more we can do together.”