Michelle Obama’s speech:
“Thank you all so much. Well, good evening. You all rest yourselves. You’ve got a long night.
Let me start by thanking Neil. He has been such a terrific friend and partner. I’m just grateful for all that he does for music, for young people. He is terrific. And I want to thank you all for having me here tonight for the annual Grammys on the Hill Awards. I am — yes!
I am here tonight because I am so proud and so honored to pay tribute to a woman whose songs light up my iPod — no, no, they keep me going through some long rides and some long trips — and a woman whose service to others is an inspiration to me and to millions of people across the globe. My friend, my girl, Alicia Keys.
Now, over the years, I have rocked out to “Girl on Fire.” I have tried -– and failed -– to sing along to “Fallin’.” I have truly cried my eyes out at “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete,” just a beautiful, beautiful film. I’ve loved every minute of Alicia on the big screen, and I’ve watched this woman sell tens of millions of albums and win countless awards.
But when I first finally got to meet this woman in person, face to face, what struck me most was her seriousness not just about her own artistic career, but about her broader mission on this Earth. After just a few minutes with Alicia, I realized that she doesn’t just see herself as an artist or a celebrity, but as an individual with a relationship -– and a responsibility –- to the world.
See, Alicia goes through life with her eyes wide open to the struggles and injustices, the heartbreaking inequalities that folks here in America and across the globe are facing every single day. And this is where Alicia truly finds her purpose. This is how she truly measures her success — not by the awards she’s gotten or the money she’s made, but by the lives she’s saved, and the people she’s inspired, and the communities she has transformed. In fact, in an interview, Alicia said that she views celebrity as a kind of currency. And she said — these are her words — “Currency, like celebrity, should be used wisely and purposefully.”
So Alicia doesn’t use her fame just to further her fame; to get more magazine covers or Twitter followers. No, she uses her fame to further the cause of folks who are struggling — families in wrenching poverty, women desperate to keep their babies safe from HIV, young girls yearning to make their voices heard.
And let me be very clear: Alicia doesn’t do the “just attend a fancy gala once a year” kind of work, or the “just write a check and be done with it” kind of work. No, Alicia does the real, on-the-ground kind of work. She goes directly to the places where folks are in need and she offers them her heart, her network, and the full power of her voice. And then she comes back and convinces others to join her and offer their voices and their resources.
So Alicia, she’s not just a giver herself. She’s a force-multiplier, inspiring others to give more. And I imagine that when Alicia asks you to pitch in, it’s kind of hard to say no. Because she has this wrap-you-in-her-arms kind of warmth; this “we can change the world” kind of optimism; this overflowing, Stevie Wonder kind of love. We all understand that. There is no ego, no sense of entitlement. This woman couldn’t be a diva if she tried.
And in the end, with Alicia, you get nothing but Alicia. She simply is who she is, and she does what she knows is right, no matter what anyone else might think. And with her example, Alicia has truly set a new standard for us all. That’s why I’m here. I love this woman. To measure our lives not by how much we have and how many people know our name, but by how much we give and how many people we help.
And that is why we are honoring her tonight, and that’s why I’m so proud to be here to present her with the Recording Artists Coalition Award. So let us all show our love for the one and only Alicia Keys.”