Grammy-winning R&B singer Chrisette Michele “didn’t even think to say no” when she was asked to perform at one of the official balls at US president Donald Trump’s inauguration last weekend. She “thought that it was almost my responsibility to not just say yes, but to say yes with purpose,” she says in an interview with Billboard.
In retrospect—given the horde of backlash she’s faced ever since taking the stage in Washington, and all the jokes swirling around the inauguration lineup in general—perhaps she should’ve publicly clarified exactly why she took the gig. Says Michele in the new interview:
I felt automatically committed to making sure that I stood up for the women who’ve felt disrespected and the minorities who felt disrespected, communities that felt that they weren’t being heard or understood […] I thought I had said enough that somebody would know that Chrisette’s not going there to dance at a ball, but to make a statement.
But it was a statement, it seems, lost on most—especially after artists from Elton John to John Legend turned their backs on performing for Trump. Filmmaker Spike Lee pulled Michele’s song “Black Girl Magic” from his upcoming Netflix series after she accepted the performance. The Roots drummer Questlove offered to literally pay her not to perform. Fans revolted. Michele says members of her own family refused to support her.
The interview only gets bleaker, when Michele reveals she didn’t even get to meet Trump:
Originally, I was supposed to perform directly after his first speech, and I had done that with Barack Obama before, so I was used to that kind of experience. And the woman who organized the event came and told me, ‘Now you’re going to go first and he’s going to go after you.’ I looked her in the eye and said, ‘My family has disowned me. If you decide to Google me, you’ll see that America is writing about me in their newspapers. I’m the black poster child for discord right now, and he’s not going to shake my hand?’ So no, I didn’t get to meet him.
And sadder yet:
I know he has a lot of other things going on. I don’t know if, like Barack and Michelle, he’s listening to my album or that I’ll be on his summer playlist, so I don’t want to take it that way. I’d rather be optimistic and think that they’ll come another chance where I can talk to him.
To her credit, Michele is taking her situation in stride. She is releasing a poetry album called “No Political Genius” that is partially a response to the controversy around her inauguration performance. A choice pair of lines: “White House invites me, you can call me their coon / I am the butterfly growing from slavery’s cocoon.”
By Amy X. Wang