She noted Memphis’ history as the birthplace of Elvis Presley’s rock and roll and B.B. King’s blues.
“And while you can hear both of those influences in Memphis soul, this music has a style and a story uniquely its own,” Mrs. Obama said, before launching into the story of Stax Records.
She noted that the label also represented “somebody my husband thinks he sounds like” — the Rev. Al Green. “Let’s just tell him he does, OK? Since he is the president, we like to boost him up a little bit.”
It was a reference to Obama singing a few bars of Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” in February 2012 during a Democratic fundraiser at New York’s Apollo Theater.
Mrs. Obama also tried to encourage the students, including some aspiring musicians, by noting that the artists perched on stools in front of them have spent decades perfecting their talent to get where they are.
She recalled playing the piano as a young girl and said she regretted not keeping it up. But she said the skills learned through music can be useful in other avenues of life.
“The discipline, the patience, the diligence I learned through the study of music, those are all skills that I apply every single day in my life,” Mrs. Obama said. “I applied them as a student, as a lawyer, as a first lady, and definitely as a mother.”
Started in February 2009, the “In Performance at the White House” series has celebrated the music of Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Hispanic music, music from the civil-rights era, Motown and the blues, Broadway and country music.
Tuesday’s concert will be shown live on the White House website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/live.