Entertainment

Michelle Obama serenades SXSW

First lady Michelle Obama speaks at a panel discussion during South By Southwest in Austin on Wednesday.
First lady Michelle Obama speaks at a panel discussion during South By Southwest in Austin on Wednesday. AP

At first glance, First Lady Michelle Obama might seem like an odd fit for the South by Southwest music festival and conference.

After all, the five-day gathering is typically focused on loud music, buzz bands and late nights on Sixth Street, not public policy and philanthropy.

But have you heard Obama’s rendition of Boyz II Men’s classic ballad It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday?

She crooned a bit of the ’90s slow jam Wednesday during her keynote appearance, officially kicking off the 30th annual SXSW music portion, as moderator Queen Latifah asked about, among other things, life after the White House.

Obama followed her brief solo with an announcement — she does not plan to run for president (this, despite the ballroom at the Austin Convention Center erupting in deafening cheers as Queen Latifah asked Obama if she would ever consider a run).

“There’s a lifetime after the White House,” Obama said. “We’re gonna keep pushing.”

When asked what she would miss most when the Obamas depart the White House on Jan. 20, 2017, an emotional Obama said, “You all,” gesturing to the crowd gathered in the room. “You can’t be in public life and not love people.”

Obama and Latifah were joined on stage by Missy Elliott, Sophia Bush and Diane Warren, to spend an hour discussing the Let Girls Learn and 62 Million Girls initiatives, women’s education and empowerment.

The conversation ranged from formative experiences that spurred the women to become more socially aware — Queen Latifah spoke about the toll that crack and AIDS took on her family members — to the importance of inclusion and diversity at all levels of society.

“We reach better answers when we have more voices at the table,” Obama said.

Also highlighted was the Warren-penned single This Is for My Girls, which features vocals from Elliott, Fort Worth-born pop superstar Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monae, Kelly Rowland and Lea Michele.

“The message is important and I wanted to be part of it,” said the self-described “super-shy” Elliott, who exclaimed at one point, “Here I am, out of all the things ... I never thought I’d be sitting beside the First Lady.”

Indeed, the panel was uniformly awed to be sharing the stage with Obama — “It’s weird to write [1989 single] Ladies First and be sitting with the First Lady,” Queen Latifah observed at one point. “It’s surreal!” — but the overriding message was less about celebrity, and more about making a difference, whoever and wherever you are.

“Change happens on the ground,” Obama said. “It comes from the bottom up.”

President Barack Obama also spoke at the SXSW festival last week.

Preston Jones: 817-390-7713, @prestonjones

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