Michelle Obama Praises Grammy Museum for Arts Education Program

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/ AFP

“Your work has been at the heart of our vision for the White House right from the very beginning," the first lady told a sold-out crowd gathered Wednesday at the museum's first inaugural Jane Ortner Education Award Luncheon.

First Lady Michelle Obama—in the midst of a whirlwind visit to Los Angeles—Wednesday turned her keynote address to the Grammy Museum's first inaugural Jane Ortner Education Award Luncheon into a celebration of the arts in education.

The Jane Ortner Award was created by the Grammy Museum in partnership with entertainment attorney Charles Ortner, in honor of his late wife, a New York elementary school teacher who believed strongly in using music education to as a tool to inspire children to excel. This year’s recipient was Sunshine Cavalluzzi, a teacher at El Dorado High School in Placentia.

The first lady told the sold-out crowd gathered at L.A. Live's Club Nokia that the concert series, which the Grammy Museum helps to organize, is one of her favorite events at the White House.  “Your work has been at the heart of our vision for the White House right from the very beginning," Obama said.

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The first lady continued: "We wanted we do to do everything we could to make the White House the people's house. We wanted to open it up to as many people in this country as possible, especially the young people. When we started inviting performers to the White House, we also told them that we expected them to spend some time with young people doing workshops and wonderful mentoring sessions. That's where all of you came in. Thanks to your generosity, the Grammy Museum has flown nearly 1000 students to Washington to visit the White House and to take part in this program. And thousands more have participated by video."

As a result, Obama said, the young students have had "so many once-in-a-lifetime experiences," exploring music with such artists as Smokey Robinson, John Legend, Lyle Lovett, Melissa Etheridge, Patti Labelle, Janelle Monae and many others.

"These sessions are amazing," the first lady added. "They are these truly intimate moments when these artists and the kids are sitting around in the state dining room. In that room they are pouring their hearts out to each other. They're not just talking about music, they're talking about their hopes and dreams and their fears. They're talking about the value of hard work, staying true to yourself and picking yourself up when you fall. Let me tell you so many of these young people have had these experiences, they walk away transformed."

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In addition to recognizing the museum's work, Obama also praised high school teacher Cavalluzzi, who received this year's Jane Ortner Educator Award for her use of music to help her students learn economics. The award was created by the Grammy Museum in partnership with entertainment attorney Charles Ortner, in honor of his late wife, Jane Ortner, a New York elementary school teacher who understood the importance of using music education as a tool to inspire children to excel.

"We know engagement and the arts can unlock a world of possibility for our young people, especially when it comes to their education," Obama said. "Studies show that kids who are involved in the arts have higher grades, higher graduation rates, higher college enrollment rates. And when you think about it, that's not really surprising, because for many young people arts education is the only reason they get out of bed in the morning. Just like Janelle. They go to school each day because there is an instrument they want to play, a musical they want to perform in, a painting they are dying to finish. Once they arrive in those classrooms, that's when we can teach them something else like math, and writing and science."

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During her remarks, Michelle Obama introduced a special performance by her "good friend," singer Janelle Monae, who was the recipient Wednesday of the Grammy Museum's Artist Award. (Monae has been to the White House several times, but is best known among administration insiders for dancing on a table in the East Room during an early morning celebration of Obama’s second inauguration.)

"You know that little fireplug of a woman that just stood here today?" Obama said. "Well, I’m going to introduce her, because she’s going to come out here and do her thing...I love that she is one of the young artists here who is making music that means something. She has a message. She has a voice. She has a power in her."

Monae, for her part, called Obama “the first electric lady of the United States,” in reference to one of the singer’s hit songs.

Event attendees included Neil Portnow, Bob Santelli, Ann Curry, Faith Evans, Andrew Lenchewski, Ron Popeil, Charles King, Gizelle Fernandez, Ron Fair, Cameron Strang, Bruce Roberts, Jack Sussman, and the Ortner family (Charles and and his adult children, Amy and Eric.)

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