Year in Music 2017

Diane Warren Explains How Michelle Obama's 'This Is for My Girls' All-Star Anthem Came to Be: Exclusive

Emily Shur
Diane Warren photographed at her piano.

"It's kind of like 'We Are the World' meets 'Lady Marmalade' with these strong voices and strong women," the songwriter tells Billboard.

First lady Michelle Obama and songwriting veteran Diane Warren unleashed the catchy female empowerment song "This Is for My Girls" on radio Tuesday (March 15) during South by Southwest, and the charity single stars vocals from Kelly Clarkson, Missy Elliott, Kelly Rowland, Janelle Monae, Lea Michele, Zendaya, Jadagrace and Chloe & Halle.

"It's kind of like 'We Are the World' meets 'Lady Marmalade' with these strong voices and strong women," Warren told Billboard in an exclusive interview soon after the song's radio release. "When was the last time you heard a song like this or a record that had this many amazing divas on it? I'm really proud."

Michelle Obama Taps Missy Elliott, Zendaya, Kelly Rowland, Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monae & More on 'This Is for My Girls'

The song, executive-produced by AOL's inspirational women's website MAKERS.com, will be available for sale only on iTunes starting at midnight on Wednesday to benefit the White House's Let Girls Learn campaign and the estimated 62 million girls globally without access to education. All proceeds will go to the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Fund because the featured artists all waived royalties and fees.

Warren -- fresh off her eighth Academy Award nomination for best original song for Lady Gaga's powerful "Til It Happens to You" -- revealed that she has had the song in her back pocket for quite some time until her friend and Project Runway producer Desiree Gruber told her about the project. "Desiree knew the song and always loved the song because I played it for her. It needed something. It was meant for female empowerment with its uplifting message.

"We haven't had an anthem like this in awhile," Warren added. "I envisioned the record being with all these different women, never just one girl singing on it. With Kelly Rowland on it, it's almost like an updated Destiny's Child record. I think it can be a huge worldwide anthem. I hope it becomes that."

Missy Elliott & Queen Latifah Joining Michelle Obama's SXSW Keynote

Clarkson was the final singer added to the song.

"It happened so fast -- literally Kelly Clarkson was singing her part in Nashville while we were almost mastering it," Warren remembered. "So we dropped her vocals in. It was that crazy."

Warren and Obama both recruited artists for "This Is For My Girls." "I'm working on Zendaya's record, and she's such a great role model for young girls. These are all these people I'm working with -- I'm working with Janelle Monae and Kelly Rowland. Aside from being great singers, they're all strong women. Like Kelly Clarkson, she doesn't take shit from anybody, you know? None of these girls do. And how cool is it that Missy Elliott is on it? Her rap is amazing. She wrote the rap. I left that to her. The rap is really inspired on it."

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As for Glee and Broadway star Lea Michele, 16-year-old Motown artist Jadagrace, and Beyonce protégés' Chloe & Halle, Warren says, "It's cool to have these superstars and a couple of new artists as well" -- similar to what Austin's SXSW has become with its mix of A-listers and emerging talent filling the lineups.

"This is my first time at SXSW, and it's a big deal with me being on a panel with Michelle Obama. I've already been told to watch my language," Warren said.

Warren, Elliott, actress Sophia Bush and moderator Queen Latifah will join Obama during the first lady's SXSW keynote speech, which you can live-stream at MAKERS.com on Wednesday at 11 a.m. CT. They will discuss music and education as well as show a public service announcement to raise awareness for 62MillionGirls.com. Chloe & Halle will open the live stream with a performance at 10:30 a.m. CT.

Warren is also working on songs with Gaga, Zendaya, Monae, Nathan Sykes, Big Sean and many other artists. And the song she wrote with Taylor Swift may still come out someday: "I know [Swift] likes it, so hopefully it will see the light of day. I know she really likes the song. She didn't want me to give it away, so hopefully that means she wants it."