WASHINGTON — Pop star Demi Lovato, soul artist Leon Bridges and several other stars joined first lady Michelle Obama at her final White House music event for young people Wednesday, where she urged about 100 students from elementary school through college to emulate the passion that soul legend Ray Charles brought to his music as they being their careers.

At the event, the final concert of the White House Music Series that began in 2009, the stars met with groups of students from elementary, middle and high schools as well Delta State University.

Obama said Charles, who died in 2004, and the artists on stage, including gospel singer Yolanda Adams, actor Jussie Smollett and singer Andra Day, faced adversities to become the superstars they are today.

“Before (being famous), Ray Charles was just a kid from a struggling family in rural Florida, where he was blind by the age of seven and orphan by the age of 16,” she said. “But Ray Charles loved music and he was determined to pursue this passion.”

Obama encouraged students work as hard as they can to follow their dreams. She emphasized the importance of education in having a successful career, saying school is the best investment they can make. She also encouraged them not to fear failure as they dedicate themselves to their education and passions.

“You don’t get here until you fail real bad, real big and real hard somewhere,” she said. “The question is, how do you get back up from those failures? Because as Ray Charles said, if there is truly something you want to do in the world you can’t be satisfied until you do it.”

Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum who has helped the Obamas with the Music Series since it began, said Charles went beyond any boundaries and became a legend by doing what he loved.

“The important thing about Ray Charles is that he lived the American dream, he created for himself an American Dream,” he said.

Santelli said Charles’ music ranged from gospel to blues and jazz.

“When Ray Charles stepped up to his piano, he became America, just simply America, because he embraced every single one of those music forms,” he said.

He said Charles is an inspiration to many American artists today because the music he created and the boundaries he broke were “astonishing.”

Obama said Charles’ diverse musical career was the perfect way to close the Music Series.

There have been more than 10 concerts in honor of a variety of American music stars since the series began. Obama called the day’s celebration bittersweet because Tuesday night will be the final concert in the series before the end of President Barack Obama’s term.

“These events have been such a wonderful part of our time here,” Obama said. “Best of all, we’ve been able to share these amazing cultural legacies with over 800 young people from around the country.”

She said she hopes the next administration continues the tradition because it offers a wonderful way to “reinforce our rich cultural heritage in the arts here at the White House.


Story by: Mariana Alfaro

Video by: Noah Fromson