Students at Westinghouse College Prep were star struck Monday as singer/songwriter Janelle Monae made a special appearance at their high school.
Renowned for her soulful R&B music, Monae was born in Kansas City, Kansas and attributes much of her musical inspiration to her working-class background. Her signature black-and-white attire is a tribute to her grandmother, who served food in a county jail for 25 years, and her mother, who worked as a custodian. Many of her songs are rooted in the stories and experiences of these two women – strong role models whose grit and determination electrify and inspire her to this day.
In a packed Westinghouse auditorium, Monae spoke animatedly with students about her past, her music, and her path to success. She encouraged them to express themselves without fear of judgment, and reminded them how important it is to associate with positive people.
“Stay away from people who stop you from being focused,” Monae said to the students. “Find people who help keep you balanced and give you guidance and advice. Have a support system, because life’s not always going to be what you want or expect.”
Monae had many fans in the student crowd, several of whom have likely heard her new album titled The Electric Lady. What she calls “a soundtrack for the Obama era”, this album “speaks to the beautiful, majestic and revolutionary times that we’re living in” while exploring the life, warmth and struggles that she experienced during her Midwestern youth. This was the follow-up to her debut album The Arch Android, which topped critic’s lists all over the world in 2010.
Monae has earned numerous awards for her music, and in August 2012 was named the newest addition to the CoverGirl spokeswomen lineup – something she never imagined would happen.
“I didn’t see any images of me as a CoverGirl,” she said. “But times are changing. You never know what curve balls life will throw at you.”
As she told her personal story, Monae encouraged the students again and again to go for their dreams and never to settle.
“If you want to do something, go for it,” she said. “Life is not a rehearsal. You have to take risks.”
Monae takes seriously her influence on the future of today’s youth, and considers it her responsibility to empower, uplift and teach the next generation.
“You are the future, and this is a crucial time for you,” she told the Westinghouse students. “You need to study, go to college, and work in your communities. It’s up to you to move your neighborhoods forward and have an impact on people’s lives. We are depending on you.”