Janelle Monáe On Being a Former Maid and Why She Still Wears a Uniform

The singer-songwriter delivered the most moving speech of the evening at the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! 2012 awards ceremony.

By Jorge Rivas Nov 05, 2012

On Sunday, BET broadcasted the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! 2012 awards ceremony that celebrate the achievements of women of color in the arts, politics and social welfare. Among the honorees was artist Janelle Monáe who received the "Young Gifted and Black Award." She delivered the most moving speech of the evening.

Monáe, 26, is known for her captivating music that zips listeners from genre to genre — in just one album she can take you from R&B and funk to rap, psychedelic rock and disco. But the singer-songwritter is also widely respected for her style.

Monáe always wears what she calls her uniform: always a jacket and pants, all her clothes are black or white and her hair is done up in a Fifties-style quiff.

That uniform has caught the attention of fashion royalty like Andre Leon Talley, editor at large of Vogue, who in 2010 included her in an editorial. In August this year, Monae also became a COVERGIRL, joining the ranks of Christie Brinkley, Tyra Banks and Sofia Vergara who have become spokesmodels for the beauty brand.

During her acceptance speech at BLACK GIRLS ROCK! 2012 Monáe spoke candidly about her family and said she wears her uniform in honor of them.

"When I started my musical career I was a maid, I used to clean houses. My parents–my mother was a proud janitor, my step-father who raised me like his very own worked at the post office and my father was a trash man. They all wore uniforms. And that’s why I stand here today in my black and white and I wear my uniform to honor them," Monáe said, fighting back tears.

"This is a reminder that I have work to do, I have people to uplift, I have people to inspire," she said after explaining that she grew up in Wyandotte County, "the poorest county" in Kansas City.

"And today I wear my uniform proudly as a Covergirl," she told the audience reffering to her deal with the cosmetics giant.

Monáe then went on to deliver a message directed to her young fans but one that could resonate with fans of all ages and gender.

"I want to be clear young girls, I didn’t have to change who I was to become a Covergirl, I didn’t have to become perfect because I’ve learned through my journey that perfection is the often the enemy of greatness. Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes other uncomfortable.

That last quote was a good one to end a story with but because tomorrow is election day, you should know that Barack Obama is a fan of Monáe.

"People that worked in his campaign have told us he is very aware of me," Monae told Rolling Stones in a 2010 interview.