By Lily Kuo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage at an awards ceremony Saturday with poet Maya Angelou, performers Stevie Wonder and Mariah Carey, and other African American celebrities who called the black community to civic action, starting with voting in the 2012 presidential election.
The taping of the BET Honors, hosted by Black Entertainment Television was held at the historic Warner Theatre in downtown Washington.
It brought out stars including singers Patti LaBelle and queen of soul Aretha Franklin, as well as Washington political figures such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The politics-meets-glamour event fits in with the recently ramped up efforts by Obama to help her husband, President Barack Obama, win a challenging re-election bid in November.
Obama, in a crimson, one-shouldered gown, presented the Literary Arts award to Angelou and appealed to the crowd to follow Angelou's example as an activist.
"It is not enough merely to seek greatness for ourselves, we must help others discover greatness within themselves. We need to reach down and reach out, and give back and lift others," she said.
Speakers at the ceremony praised the Obamas for being the first black family in the White House and told the audience to "vote like your life depends on it."
"We have to exercise our constitutional right to vote. And there's a man out there with a vision for this country and he intends to finish what he started," said Beverly Kearney, head coach of the University of Texas' women's track team.
Those honored were filmmaker Spike Lee, World War Two Tuskeegee airmen, as well as Angelou, Kearney, Wonder and Carey.
Obama stayed for the three-hour taping during which several acts had to be done over. While posing on stage with the award winners an audience member yelled, "We love you, First Lady!"
"Just her coming out and having a good time, it comes off like she's just like the rest of us. Since she connects, it's going to be helpful to her in helping Barack get another term," said Sonya Lowery, 41, of Maryland.
(Reporting by Lily Kuo; Editing by Jackie Frank)