Pop star and actress Janelle Monae is returning to her hometown this weekend to headline the October 13 concert of the Open Spaces Festival. Monae, a graduate of Schlagle High School, talks about how being from Wyandotte County influences her music and her personal and professional aesthetic.
Monae's latest album, “Dirty Computer,” was released earlier this year. Her music, style, politics and revelations about her sexuality landed her on the covers of Rolling Stone and the New York Times Magazine. She's also recently appeared in “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight,” the 2016 film which won an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture.
Below is an edited version of a conversation with Monáe.
MONÁE: My upbringing, my community was all a huge inspiration for this album. And growing up in a small town and having big ideas and being what one would call a weirdo or just having a different approach to the way that I saw music, art and performance, I did at times feel out of place but I think that I wasn’t alone in that endeavor and I think that there were more people in Kansas City, Kansas, who could relate to what it is in that song.
JOHNSON: Do you find that in addition to dealing with barriers and misconceptions about race, that one of the hurdles you’ve had operate around in the entertainment industry is being from Kansas?
MONÁE: Absolutely. And I love, I love wearing that with so much pride and just educating people on Kansas and the arts programs and the artists that come out of there who were just so incredible. And they may not have always gotten that big break, but I definitely want to give hope to the up-and-coming artists and people who are striving to execute their big ideas that it is possible.
JOHNSON: What would you say to a young black girl in Kansas City, Kansas, who's like, not even out of high school yet, who feels weird and inspired but doesn't feel like she can bust through the walls of Wyandotte County?
MONÁE: I just know that, like you, I come from a place where people counted us out and maybe the resources haven't always been as large as other areas. But know that when you are passionate, when you work hard, because it's a hard ***ing work, 90 per cent of it is working hard and exercising your muscles.
JOHNSON: What else is it about, in addition to the hard work?
MONÁE: Remember that it is a journey and it's not the destination, so enjoy the journey and be patient. It takes patience. And be kind, because a lot of it is about relationship-building and people wanting to work with you and walking your truth. I just hope that by me walking in my purpose, it encourages everyone watching to walk in theirs, whatever that may be.
JOHNSON: Your recording label Wondaland is out of Atlanta. Have you thought about maybe opening a branch in Wyandotte County?
MONÁE: I would love that. I'm, I'm actually partnering with some organizations even around this show, and some of the people in the organizations in the arts, LGBTQ youth programs, anti-violence programs will be at the show. And so I'm extremely excited about that and I'm just looking forward to doing more in the community.
Michelle Tyrene Johnson is a reporter at KCUR 89.3 and part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Kansas City, St. Louis, Hartford, Connecticut and Portland, Oregon.