INTERVIEW: Chrisette Michele On Inauguration Performance & Trump's First Black History Month In Office
By Isha Thorpe
January 30, 2017
On January 20, 2017, Chrisette Michele became the bad guy to many. The singer/songwriter made the decision to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration, and she hasn’t gotten much love from the public since.
For almost 10 years, Michele’s jazz-influenced voice was a fan favorite when people heard her songs, as well as on some tracks by today’s top MCs’. But unfortunately, negative emotions are what many people are currently feeling when they hear her voice, or see her face.
Why did she decide to perform at the inauguration? What was she thinking? How could she do this to the black community? These were all of the questions that ran rampant in the minds of people who learned that she was lending her amazing talents to the now-president’s ball. Due to the controversial words and insensitive point of views that Trump has expressed throughout his president campaign in regards to minorities, many couldn’t understand why Michele would perform at such a person’s celebratory event that welcomed him into office.
But after receiving much backlash – some from people who she admires – Michele is determined to set the record straight. In an interview with iHeartRadio; the recording artist revealed what made her jump at the opportunity to perform at the inauguration, why she would do it again, what worries her most about President Trump, Trump’s first Black History Month in the White House and more.
Read iHeartRadio’s interview with Chrisette Michele below.
So tell me exactly, why did you decide to perform at the inauguration?
When we were asked to perform at the ball, my manager called me in to his office and he said, ‘You won't believe this e-mail.’ He told me that the production company for the ball had called him and [wanted] me to perform. And literally, without hesitation, I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ Just like that. And it's one of those things where you say, ‘Absolutely’ and then, your manager looks at you and he goes, ‘Oh, hell no.’
The reason why I agreed was because I felt like, at the end of the day there needs to be conversation with everybody. If I'm limited to Black Twitter only and nowhere else on the planet, nowhere else in the country, then I'm only having a conversation with Black Twitter and nobody else. And that's the only voice that I'll know. That's the only voice that I look for approval from, that's the only voice that will either validate or not validate me. So, I needed to hear what more people thought. I needed to see why we were in this predicament and who's really talking and who's really listening.
So, the reason that you didn't think [twice] about it was because you felt some type of confusion?
I've always had a kind of conviction about what's going on socially. I've always been very socially conscious. Last year alone, I performed or spoke at HBCUs. I went to Harvard and spoke about Arts for Change. I'm always at schools and universities, sitting with congressmen, sitting with mayors, just talking about what the heck is going on.
I guess I didn't think, ‘Oh, let's throw an R&B concert for Trump!’ It was more like, ‘This is my door.’ This is the door to get through to these people. This is the moment where I can finally show them what we look like.’ There's moments where we're watching the news -- black women, white women, Puerto Rican women, all women, everybody -- and we're listening to a speech and we say, ‘I know he ain’t talkin' 'bout me.’ Maybe it's my ego, [I] was like, ‘Okay, let me show him what we look like.’ Like, ‘Excuse me. This is what we look like, this is how we stand, this is how we smile, this is how we speak, this is how poised we are, this is how elegant we are, this is how ... equal we are.’
Were you aware that people already knew that you were going to perform (before the day came)?
I was aware of Jennifer Holliday backing out because she was bullied. That was when I knew to turn my phone off. Not only did I turn off my phone, I changed my number because my phone was ringing off the hook with unknown numbers from other countries, and ours.
What did you sing at the inauguration concert?
If they would have called and been like, ‘Oh, can you do like an R&B concert?’ And like, 'Sing 'A Couple of Forevers'' and 'Blame it on me,' I'd have been like, ‘With all due respects, I don't know if I'm gonna do that’ because that would have been, I think, coon-ish.
[The] first thing they asked me to do was sing an old jazz song that Billie Holiday sang about coming together. [I] thought about it and I was like, ‘Hmm ... Okay, I wanna sing that, but this can't be an ego thing.’ It has to be less of me, more of God. I couldn't make it about if I was a good jazz singer, or if I'm a good R&B singer, if I looked nice enough. It had to be about the greater cause. So when they said that Travis Greene, Jonathan McReynolds, and Tye Tribbett were gonna sing with me, there was no hesitation.
Did you expect to pull Trump to the side and speak with him?
There was a part of me that practiced what I was gonna explain to him. ‘Trump, let me be your speechwriter, you're doing this all wrong. Nobody likes you and you're scaring us.’ Part of me was thinking, I have so much to share with both him, and everybody else. I kind of just wanted him to see that we weren't gonna duck down and run away because if I don't agree with the things that are coming out of him and his cabinet, or him and his constituents’ mouths, and it looks like we ran and hide like the 60 democrats that ran...Then, they're not gonna be held accountable at all. If they don't have anybody to answer to… if we all run to Black Twitter..do you think he knows Black Twitter? He knows who's at the damn ball!
I think that wherever you can go to be another voice, even if it's scary, that's your assignment right now. 2017, you may or may not get to choose where you speak. But if you stop speaking, then we're not present.
What hurt you most about all of the backlash?
I didn't know that black people could hate black people so much. I'm aware of black on black crime and I'm aware of haters and I'm aware of all the things we call each other. But I didn't know black people could hate black people as much as they hate the system. We refer to the system as this big scary awful place, and we treat each other like the system. It's like, ‘Am I black anymore?’ ‘Do I count with you guys?’
But, I'm kind of use to that kind of contradiction. You know I've been called the token black girl…If my hair's in a weave, then I'm a sell-out. If my hair is kinky, then I'm a clone. I don't know if we're nice to each other in general. So, that doesn't faze me. I'm used to hate.
Let's talk about 'No Political Genius.'
[My team] would tell me little things [like], ‘Spike Lee said this, or Questlove said that. How would you like to respond?’ And I couldn't think of anything to say because it was all mean-spirited and I don't do mean-spirited.
I went to sleep on Saturday night and woke up on Sunday morning with all this poetry in my head, and I wrote it down as quick as I could. [It] took me like 6 hours. I got into the studio and I just started recording every single poem. Poems about women's rights, poems about injustice with the LGBTQ community, poems about just all of us here, as a nation; and how we can maybe take this moment to have a conversation. So that's what the album of No Political Genius is and I've decided I'll drop it on Feb. 1.
And then I'm working on a TV show, called No Political Genius where I might go to the white girl in South Dakota who's a single mom, and the black girl in Far Rockaway who's a single mom, and share both of their stories to kind of show how similar they both are. And then talk to the politicians and congress folks who can help them get through what they're going through, and just bring that to the media. I'm no political genius but maybe we can start getting some answers with some conversation.
So tell me, how do you feel about Trump’s messages? He spoke about building his wall in Mexico recently and then he also talked about removing the 'carnage' from Chicago.
When we were in D.C., there were military tanks outside with machine guns and it brought me back to when I was beginning to worry about martial law actually being a thing. When I first was introduced to, ‘Oh my goodness, we might lose our rights.’ So, honestly, I think just like every body else, I'm scared. The mayor of Chicago then invited me to come and sing, which I don't know what singing is gonna do right now. But, hopefully we can sing one song…
If Trump asked you to perform for another event, would you do it?
I think that's the question of the day is, ‘Would you perform for Trump again?’ I would perform for the country again.
February is Black History Month and it’s coming up. What do you think Trump can do on Black History Month to make us feel like he sees us?
Listen. And I hope that we put ourselves in a position to be heard. If we aren't where the conversation is, then how are we gonna get involved in it? Martin Luther King said, ‘You begin to die the day that you stop speaking about what matters.’ How can we speak if we're not at the table?
We could all decide what we're trying to say, and say it together. I think it will be more impactful, than us blowing and throwing darts at the people who are trying to trail blaze. Throw darts all you want. I'm not a p**sy. I have a p**sy, [but] I'm not one. But, what I'm asking is that like we want Donald Trump to listen, we need to listen, too. And I'm speaking loud and clear…The conversation is starting, but I think it's going to be a real effing good idea if we stopped spewing hatred and opened up our ears a little bit. And I think that [then] we're gonna be okay.
Photos: Rachel Kaplan for iHeartRadio