When you get Michelle Obama to sing your praises, clearly you have leveled to the top of the music game.
That’s what happened at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas on Sunday night, when the former first lady introduced Alicia Keys in a 20th anniversary medley of songs from her groundbreaking debut album “Songs in A Minor,” which came out on June 5, 2001 when the Manhattan-born singer-pianist was just 19.
Obama recalled hearing Keys’ Grammy-winning No. 1 single for the very first time.
“I remember what it felt like to feel like to hear the song ‘Fallin’ ” for the first time. It was edgy and soulful, graceful yet raw,” Obama, 57, said. This young singer was taking us to church and to the symphony and to a candlelight dinner and couples therapy and everywhere else all in a little more than three minutes. I knew right then and there that this wouldn’t be the last we’d hear from Alicia Keys, and in the years since she’s amazed us again and again in so many ways.”
Obama went on to celebrate Keys for being “not just an artist. She’s also an advocate for women and families around the world, a leader on social justice, a wife, a mentor, a mother. But most of all she is herself, always thoughtful, always hopeful, always Alicia. And in bearing her true self, she calls us all to be the same in our own lives and for each other.
Then Obama concluded her introduction on a very personal note, telling Keys in her pre-recorded tribute that “you inspire me and my daughters.”
As if that wasn’t already enough of 20th anniversary moment, Keys — resplendent in white, including a top hat that covered her “Songs in A Minor”-era braids — took the stage to sing an ivory-tinkling medley of “Piano & I,” “A Woman’s Worth,” “How Come You Don’t Call Me” and of course “Fallin’” — which proved she had not fallen at all as one of the best R&B artists of her generation.
And hard to believe, she just turned 40 years old in January.