Arts & Entertainment

I'm Gonna Let It Shine. Will You?

Just before the worst blizzard in over 100 years hit Washington, D.C., first lady Michelle Obama invited a group of 120 children to the White House for an hour-long workshop, themed "Music that Inspired the Civil Rights Movement."

Later that evening, some of music's biggest stars take center stage at the White House to some of those songs.

But not before a more intimate discussion with the children took place. And I was there to witness it.

Legendary soul singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson, social activist and songstress Bernice Johnson Reagon, gospel star Yolanda Adams and the gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama all performed for the high school students and shared some of their personal stories and perspectives of the civil rights movement and the significance of the songs, many of which were used to protest the evils of Jim Crow.

Here's Johnson Reagan, a member of the Freedom singers, talking about her childhood and learning to understand the meaning behind the protest song "This Little Light of Mine (I'm Gonna Let it Shine)":

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After the workshop, many students told me, they have been hearing those songs for years, but they have never understood the meaning of the lyrics and this workshop really helped them decipher the hidden message behind some of these songs.

The discussion was moderated by Robert Santelli, executive director of the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles. Santelli told me, his favorite civil rights song is Bob Dylan's "Blowing In The Wind".

"This is the first record I ever bought," he recalled. "Bob Dylan, as a young person, for me was very, very important. Very inspirational."

Legendary soul singer Smokey Robinson talks to children at the White House about songs that influenc

Legendary soul singer Smokey Robinson talks to children at the White House about songs that influenced the 1960s era civil rights movement. Saul Loeb/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Saul Loeb/Getty Images

And celebrated R&B singer Smokey Robinson took the opportunity to teach the children about treating each other with respect.

"Don't call bag on each other," he added.

Take a listen:

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Unfortunately, the hour passed fast and the students were not allowed to ask questions, because the time ran out. Some of them left disappointed and without having their burning questions answered. One girl told me she really wanted to know what it felt like for the artists to sing those songs. What they felt when they were in prison or walking the streets in protest, or organizing sit-ins and waiting for hours to be served.

Well, hopefully there will be a next time.

I was disappointed that the first lady was not there ... nor John Legend and John Mellencamp.

But so what! At the end of the day, it is important to remember and it is important to know how this music paved the way for social change and the huge way it even changed some people's lives.

But, before I go here is my personal favorite:

Now, what's yours?

Blog to you soon.

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