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Becoming

The intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States

By Michelle Obama
19-minute read
Audio available
Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming (2018) tells the story of Michelle Obama, née Robinson. Born to loving parents in a working-class Chicago neighborhood, she grew into a strong, independent woman, who just happened to meet and fall in love with a man named Barack Obama. This is the life story of a woman who didn’t expect to become the first African-American First Lady, yet found a way to continue exercising her own unique voice under the most unusual and trying of circumstances.

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Michelle Obama graduated from Princeton University before attending Harvard Law School and then joining the prestigious Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin. She worked in the mayor’s office of Chicago’s City Hall before becoming the Executive Director of the youth mentoring program Public Allies. After this, she worked as the Executive Director for Community Affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center. Since becoming the First Lady of the United States, she has written numerous books and been an advocate for children’s health and the issues facing military families.

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Becoming

The intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States

By Michelle Obama
  • Read in 19 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 12 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Synopsis

Becoming (2018) tells the story of Michelle Obama, née Robinson. Born to loving parents in a working-class Chicago neighborhood, she grew into a strong, independent woman, who just happened to meet and fall in love with a man named Barack Obama. This is the life story of a woman who didn’t expect to become the first African-American First Lady, yet found a way to continue exercising her own unique voice under the most unusual and trying of circumstances.

Key idea 1 of 12

An Ambitious Beginning

One of Michelle Obama’s earliest memories is the sound of plinking piano keys. To her ears, this was the sound of ambition. In the room beneath her bedroom, Michelle’s great-aunt Robbie taught piano lessons. On any given day, Michelle could hear the sounds of Robbie’s students desperately fumbling through their songs. The sound of this amateurish music made such an impression on Michelle that, at the age of four, she became ambitious, too. Michelle was certain that she wanted to learn the piano.

This was near the end of the sixties, in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood. It was a time of political turmoil and social unrest, but Michelle was too young to have understood much about what was going on outside her home. Her close-knit family included her brother, Craig, who was older by two years; her father, who worked at a water filtration plant and loved the Chicago Cubs baseball team; and her mother, who was a wiz with a sewing needle and active in community fundraising.

One of the things that really brought their family together was music. At home, her father was always playing jazz records. And over at her grandfather’s place, every room had a speaker hooked up to the stereo system; at family gatherings, a cocktail of voices and horns filled the house: Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Miles Davis. It was her grandfather, known to everyone as “Southside,” who bought Michelle her first record: Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book.

But learning how to play music was a different story. What’s more, Robbie was stiff and strict. Her posture was impeccable. Her reading glasses always hung around her neck, threatening scrutiny. She scolded her students often. Nevertheless, Michelle was eager to win her approval.

If you’ve taken piano lessons, you know that one of the first steps is learning to find the middle C. Middle C functions like a musical landmark; knowing where it is enables you to position your hands correctly on the keys. But when you’re four years old and sitting in front of 88 keys, finding middle C is no easy task. Fortunately, on Robbie’s piano, this key was chipped, making it easy to spot.

For the most part, Michelle was a keen student and made quick progress – a little too quick, as far as Robbie was concerned. Before long, Michelle tried to skip ahead to more advanced songs in the playbook. Far from impressing Robbie, this infuriated her, and she insisted Michelle do as she was told and go one step at a time.

Then came Michelle’s first big recital. Once a year, Robbie would present her students to an audience at Roosevelt University’s music hall. Michelle put her hair in pigtails and wore a cute dress. She was ready to shine. But then, when she took her seat at the piano, she froze. There was no chipped key. Where was the middle C?

That’s when Robbie came to the rescue. She calmly walked onto the stage, reached over her shoulder like a guardian angel and pointed. Michelle could now start her recital.

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