Meet the Professional Connector Who Made Michelle Obama’s Girl Power Anthem a Reality

Google Made With Code x CODEGIRL Lunch At NeueHouse LA
Photograph by Vivien Killilea—Getty Images

It takes a special kind of connecting power to bring together political figures, entertainers, and tech bigwigs. Desiree Gruber, the president and CEO of PR, brand management and production company Full Picture, has that power in spades.

On Wednesday, a group of high-profile artists released “This Is For My Girls,” a new song in support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn campaign, an initiative intended to help an estimated 62 million adolescent girls attend and stay in school.

The song was written by Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren, and performed by pop princess Zendaya, rapper Missy Elliott, American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, and former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland, among others. Women’s empowerment platform AOL (AOL) MAKERS was the executive producer of the song, which serves as both an anthem and a fundraising tool for Let Girls Learn: All proceeds from Apple (AAPL) iTunes purchases of the song support the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Fund.

“Nobody’s making any money on this song at all,” says Gruber. “That’s not something that happens,” especially among singers and songwriters of this caliber, she says.


So, how did this big-name collaboration come together—especially when there were no profits to be made?

“I was visiting [Warren’s] studio one day and she played me this song,” recounts Gruber. “I was so moved by it…and [Warren] said, ‘You need to do something with this, Desiree.'” That was all it took to get Gruber’s wheels turning. Having worked with the First Lady’s office previously on an initiative for Project Runway (for which Gruber is an executive producer), she decided to reach out and ask if they were interested in an anthem. They were.

Subscribe to The Broadsheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the world’s most powerful women.

Once the White House was on board, Gruber turned to MAKERS, one of her consulting clients, to ask if it was interested in funding the song’s production—another yes. MAKERS also produced the official PSA for Let Girls Learn, was an official presenting partner on the First Lady’s panel at South by Southwest (where the song debuted) and will produce its music video.

The next step was getting a performer on board, and Gruber chose Zendaya for her appeal to a younger audience, and because Michelle Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, are fans. “Zendaya stepped up pretty quickly,” says Gruber. “And she was pretty instrumental in making this happen. Once we had her, it was easier to bring in other artists.”

One interesting tidbit from the recruitment process: Kelly Clarkson was a last-minute addition to the mix. Warren and her team even asked iTunes for a 24-hour extension so that the singer could participate.

“The artists on there did it for the right reasons,” says Gruber, noting that many performers declined the invitation to participate once they heard that there were absolutely no royalties involved. “It was pretty much a labor of love.”

Gruber, a UNICEF board member, says she thrives on bringing people together. “I make it my business to connect great women,” she says. “This was an intersection of three things that are super important to me: Women’s empowerment, girls’ education globally, and music being inspiration and not being about b****** and hoes.”

Note: At Gruber’s request, this story has been updated to provide more detail about AOL MAKERS’ involvement.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

LeadershipBroadsheetDiversity and InclusionCareersVenture Capital