michelle_obama_web.jpgWASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama says she’s bringing the arts to the White House to “lift young people up.”

Mrs. Obama started a series of White House events last year highlighting different genres of music – from jazz and country to Latin and classical –and this year she kicked off a dance series with performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

All the events include an instructional component for students led by professional artists.

“We want to lift young people up,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in an interview in the magazine’s November issue. “The country needs to be mindful that we have all these diamonds out there and it would be a shame not to invest in those talents.”

Mrs. Obama learned to appreciate the arts growing up in Chicago. Her grandfather played jazz music constantly, she said, and her father sculpted, painted and spent time at the Art Institute of Chicago. She even dabbled in acting as a child.

“I remember very early on being the good fairy in Hansel and Gretel and having to sing a solo, which was humiliating,” Mrs. Obama said.

She said there’s also a diplomatic power in the arts, which, she says, is a “universal voice.”

“When I travel to other countries, usually the first thing that spouses do is introduce you to their cultures through music and dance,” Mrs. Obama said. She gave a guitar to musician Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, France’s first lady, who later played it when Mrs. Obama visited.

Mrs. Obama said that last year Russian first lady Svetlana Medvedeva “took me and my girls to see beautiful Russian folk dancing and, although we didn’t speak the same language, we instantly connected.”

At the White House, events focused on the music of Motown and opera are being planned.

Mrs. Obama said she thinks of daughters Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, with the music series.

“I don’t want them to develop just one taste” in music, she said. “I want them to feel the power in country [music] as much as they feel it in Justin Bieber.”

As for the students who accept her invitation, Mrs. Obama said she imagines them not really believing they are at the White House when they come over. “And sometimes I think that. I still think that,” she said, speaking of herself.

“If you can walk into the White House and come up to the First Lady and introduce yourself, if you can perform in front of the President of the United States in the East Room, there is nothing that you can’t do,“ Mrs. Obama said. “End of story.”

The November issue of Harper’s Bazaar is scheduled to hit newsstands on Oct. 26.