John Legend has a way with words. The handsome, young pop/soul crooner has racked up an impressive list of hit singles and smash albums in the last few years, and has grown and excelled creatively with each subsequent release. His greatest gift is his ability to express himself through his lyrics and messages. The 32-year old Ohio native can effortlessly switch gears from a tender love ballad to a timely, poignant, politically-motivated message song with the greatest of ease. You can't help but draw comparisons to R&B giants Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway when summing up Legend's style, charisma and relevance.
Legend has taken it upon himself to not only let his music do the talking; he's recently become heavily involved with nonprofit organization United Way in an attempt to raise awareness about the importance of education in communities all over America. Legend has become a spokesman of sorts for United Way and has embarked on a crusade to stress the importance of a proper education and to ensure that every child, regardless of his or her economic background, is entitled to one.
Legend's recent appearance at the gorgeous Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg was a combination speaking engagement/mini-concert that packed a mighty heartfelt wallop. Legend, looking dapper in a black suit and tie, took the stage a few minutes after 9 p.m. last Tues., Dec. 13, and strode confidently past his huge grand piano to a lectern set up for him stage left.
For 30 minutes, Legend passionately read through some staggering statistics regarding high school dropout rates in the U.S. and specifically, in more economically challenged areas and neighborhoods. Legend managed to speak his mind in an understated manner, but the urgency of the issues at hand were nonetheless felt in his delivery. And just as the near-capacity crown began to grow restless under house lights that were still burning at full strength (did some not realize this wasn't a typical "concert"?), Legend wrapped things up. "Don't worry ... I'm gonna play some songs now," he announced as the antsy crowd erupted in the greatest roar of the night.
Legend swiftly took his seat at his piano and belted out a short but sweet solo sampling of his catalog of hits. The stripped down performance did wonders to show off his crafty key-playing skills, but the opportunity to hear his commanding, emotive vocals totally unaccompanied was well worth the price of admission.
John Legend holds the distinction of carrying the torch for R&B greats of the past who were known for their "message music"; artists like Curtis Mayfield, The O'Jays and Stevie Wonder gained prominence in the late 1960s and early '70s for having the courage to say and express what an entire generation and culture were so eager to shed light on. Legend, through his music and his decision to make himself heard via these types of speaking engagements, is carrying on an admirable and much-needed tradition. An eloquent speaker and an engaging conveyor of hope and positivity, Legend is an ideal candidate to help spread the word about the broken educational system this country has to contend with.
A longer musical portion of the night's event would have been enthusiastically received by the crowd (Legend only played eight songs), but the strength of his message was felt regardless. John Legend should be commended for his efforts and his compassion both as an advocate for education and as a relevant musician.
Wake Up Everybody
Used To Love You
PDA (We Just Don't Care)
Stay With You