John Legend came to Clowes Memorial Hall on Oct. 29 to help everyone “wake up” and open their eyes to the issue of American education.
“I don’t think this is a left-right issue,” Legend said of the politics surrounding American education.
He opened this year’s Celebration of Diversity Distinguished Lecture Series with a speech and panel entitled “Saving American Education: A Message and Music from John Legend.”
Legend said he believes education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
“We still live in a country where opportunities are unequal, and unfortunately here in America, a lot of it is perpetuated and institutionalized in our classrooms,” he said.
Before Legend sat down at the piano, he was awarded with a key to the city of Indianapolis and the Presidential Medal of Distinction from Butler University President Bobby Fong.
The performance and speech had four main parts: a distinguished address from Legend, a panel consisting of several Indianapolis educational authorities, a question-and-answer portion and a performance of eight songs from Legend’s long list of tracks, some of which appear in his new album “Wake Up!” that features The Roots.
“Wake Up!” features mostly cover songs from artists popular in the 60s and 70s, a time in when civil unrest was commonplace. Legend said he and The Roots meant to “inspire people with ‘Wake Up!’” and get inspired themselves.
The eight-person panel included Ena Shelley, dean of the College of Education, Eugene White, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, Karega Rausch, director of the Office of Education Innovation, Arhur Hochman, professor of education and Brandon Cosby, principal of Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy.
The panel debated about the role of parents and teachers in a child’s education, as well as holding students individually accountable for the work they do, or don’t do.
The floor seats in Clowes were only at about half-capacity.
Tickets for the event cost $25, $50 and $100 before the Butler student and faculty discount.
Fong said the ticket prices for the normally-free lectures were meant to be a fundraiser to supplement the funds provided by various corporations.
The moment so many were waiting for was upon Clowes as Legend adjusted his microphone at the piano.
Delving into his early music, Legend warmed the crowd with a soulful solo performance.
He saved the hit “Ordinary People” from his first album, “Get Lifted,” for mid-set, choosing to sing “Save Room” and “Good Morning” early on.
Legend brought the audience in to help sing one of his first singles, “Used to Love U.”
Occasionally, he would look up from the mic and speak to the audience.
He said he was only asked to sing about three or four songs, but he could never just sing three or four.
Legend said in a press conference that he did not have a set list, because when he is on his own, no one else needs to prepare.
Legend took a shot at a couple of songs from “Wake Up!”
“Wake Up Everybody” a song about paying attention to societal issues, was more than appropriate, given the nature of the discussion.
Towards the end of the performance, Legend sang his original song “Shine,” which he wrote specifically for the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” It’s a film that investigates the problems with the education system in America today.
“We all have a stake in the way this country is ran,” Legend said.