Friday, April 4, 1 p.m. ET

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. with John Legend

Recording artist John Legend covers U2's "Pride (In the name of Love)" as part of History's special on Martin Luther King Jr. Video by History
John Legend
Grammy-Winning Musician
Friday, April 4, 2008; 1:00 PM

Five-time Grammy winner John Legend contributes a cover of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" to King, a new TV documentary on the civil rights leader, to air on Sunday, April 6 at 8 p.m. on History (formerly The History Channel), reflecting on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He was online Friday, April 4 at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the special, his extensive charity work and his upcoming musical plans.

A transcript follows.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Artists, singers, and entertainers may lead social protests as much as politicians and activists. Enlightening others to situations is a powerful tool, and the images of non-violent resistance to oppressive legal authority brought people to realize the abuse of that authority, and then demand changes. What role do you see that songs may have towards educating the public?

John Legend: I think it's hard to really write a song that will educate someone because songs are meant to be ... you don't want to be too didactic in a song because it doesn't make for good music. And I think the role of songs can be to inspire people but there needs to education and prose to back that up.


Washington, D.C.: I just watched the video of your performance on the History Channel Web site - I was very moved by the combination of your voice and the images in the clips. I am a huge fan of yours and I wanted to say thank you for continuing in putting out such beautiful and soulful music that inspires and entertains when so much out there is lacking...

John Legend: I'm grateful to U2 for allowing me to do the song because they didn't have to. It's a really beautiful song anyway. I was just happy to try to do it justice.


Alexandria, Va.: What causes do you think Dr. King would be fighting for were he still alive?

John Legend: I think the clue to that would be what he was doing while he was still alive. He would still be fighting against poverty. I think he would still be fighting for peace. I think he would be against a lot of the wars, particularly the war in Iraq. If he was against the war in Vietnam I think he would be against this war. I think he would also be trying to encourage the black community to take more advantage of the legal progress that has been made with more social progress. In other words, now that legal discrimination has been abolished there is still an element of getting our own house in order and I think he would be encouraging us to do that.


John Legend: I think he would also be lobbying for more equal access to education. And it wouldn't just be about race. It would be about uplifting poor people in general, whether they be in Africa or Southeast Asia or here in America.


Tempe, Ariz.: Wow, John Legend. Hi.

First, I wanted to thank you for your beautiful and moving contribution to's Yes We Can video. I would imagine that you, as I do, see Obama has someone who has the skill, desire, and opportunity to continue Dr. King's work. Could you talk a little about similarities that you see between Obama and Dr. King, and what it means that as president, Obama could make changes from within the establishment, rather from outside, as Dr. King did? Thank you.

John Legend: The presidency is an immensely powerful position and having someone in that position with the kind of character and judgment and eloquence that Barack has, I think would be an amazing thing for this country and for the rest of the world as well. And clearly, Senator Obama has been inspired by Dr. King's rhetoric and his message and he's appropriated that in a really powerful way. The optimism that he had, the ability to organize and inspire a movement. Those all reminds us of what Dr. King did. But Dr. King did it under more duress and opposition.


Capitol Heights: Good morning Mr. Legend, I'm a 47 year old black woman, and was only 7 when King died and I have a few memories of that day. My husband seems to think that our race only has Dr. King to fall on as a Leader. Yes he is on top and will remain there forevermore, but I disagree with my husband. I myself am researching now to prove him wrong. Will this program help my research? Thank you, and let me say, I love your music!

John Legend: I think it's a bit of a myth that black Americans need one leader. We're not a monolith. And now that legal segregation and discrimination has been pretty much abolished there isn't the sort of universal mandate that a black leader would have. Black folks live in a wide variety of social situations right now. There are some that are CEOs of major corporations, some are leading politicians, some are members of the middle class, some are members of the working class and some are among the poorest in our society. And it's hard to say that one leader could possibly bring all of these groups together for a common cause. It seems unrealistic and doesn't really make sense. So I think we should stop trying to search for THE black leader.


New Orleans: Mr. Legend, what a moving performance. What do you believe is MLK's legacy?

John Legend: I think he's inspired really the whole country and the world. The themes and the ideas of his movement have inspired many other movements subsequently to achieve revolutionary things through non-violence. And I think even looking at Barack's rise it's part of that fulfillment of what Dr. King dreamed about and worked for.


Boston, Mass.: I'm old enough to remember when it WAS a big deal when a black family moved into the neighborhood. It WAS a big deal if a white girl dated a black man. There WERE stores and restaurants where a person of color could enter but could not expect to receive any service. Everyone DID have an uncle who used the "N word" exclusively when referring to afro-Americans. My teenage children look at me as if I'm crazy when I describe the race relations when I was their age. I know there's a way to go but THANK GOD for Dr. King.

John Legend: Yeah, thank God. And it wasn't just him. It was a whole movement of people that he was the figurehead and the face for. But there were a lot of other people working as well. And it took all those people to make it happen. And we do have a ways to go but I'm grateful that we've progressed to where we have. And I think it's helpful and instructive to be reminded that this wasn't that long ago. I think a lot of people would like to forget that the era you speak about is recent. And that's why I think the controversy with Rev. Wright was so shocking to people. They didn't think that older black men might still be angry about these things. But I think a lot of people didn't realize how recent that was when Jim Crow and segregation were still rampant.


Silver Spring, MD: You were great on Stephen Colbert's show a while back ... during interview and at piano keyboard w/Colbert. You seem to have serious thoughts and purposes but with a smile on your face. Colbert is making various points, or teasing us into actually thinking, through satire. Would you please talk about why both approaches are effective and needed in our society?

John Legend: I love his show, first of all. And I love that he pokes at the establishment in such a smart way. He is really one of the comedic geniuses of our time. I just love his show and watch it all the time.


Washington, D.C.: What's been your most memorable moment of the past few years? I'm sure you have plenty to choose from...

John Legend: I think my most memorable was the Grammys in 2006. I won Best New Artist and a couple other Grammys. My whole family was there, so that was pretty memorable.


Washington, D.C.: Your last album was completely solid all the way through -- how many songs did you decide NOT to include to make that gem?

Also, the last track always makes me cry. Thank you.

John Legend: I always write a lot more than I use and I think I wrote about 25 for the last album and about the same amount for this new album that I'm finishing now. My idea is that not every song I write is going to be great so I'll just write more than I need so that I can narrow it down to the best ones.


Washington, D.C.: Hi John - I have been anxiously awaiting a new album from you...are you working on anything right now?

John Legend: Yeah I'm almost done with it. It will be out in September. It's still untitled but it will be out in September. And the new single will be out in May.


Woodbridge, Va.: Hi John Legend! I caught the tail-end of a radio report in which you said you didn't use your natural singing voice on your first album. Can you talk a little about that? By the way, "Again" is one of my favorite songs.

John Legend: That's not true, I think you misheard me! It definitely was natural. The only reason it changed from the first to the second is I learned how to breathe better and it improved my tone.


Washington, D.C.: As you were not alive when Dr. King was, how have you best come to appreciate the work he did during his life? And for a musical question, who is someone you have always dreamed of collaborating with? Thanks!

John Legend: I used read about Dr. King a lot as a kid. Independently, from being assigned it or being told by my parents or anything, I was just really excited about him. So I just started reading about him very young and was inspired by his legacy and looked to him as a role model.

Well I have collaborations with Andre 3000 on the new album. Also with Kanye and also a new artist Estelle, so I'm excited about all of those.


San Francisco, Calif.: Can't be here for the live chat, but I wanted to tell John that his recent half-time performance during a Golden State Warriors game was incredible. I only saw it on TV, but it seemed like he had the raucous arena crowd stunned into silence. Too bad the Warriors season hasn't maintained that high note.

-From a fellow Penn alum

John Legend: It was really cool I appreciated the Warriors allowing me to come and do that, Stephen Jackson in particular. We're hopefully going to do that with more NBA teams in the future.


Washington, D.C.: More of a comment than a question: Howard Kurtz wrote last week that MLK's I Have a Dream speech was not covered by the Post back when it happened (there was a small article buried somewhere noting that MLK had met with Senator Kennedy before going to a demonstration on the Mall). Of course, the NY Times and other papers gave the speech proper front page coverage.

As a way of honoring Dr. King, I've been asking my kids to come up with stories they think should be on the front page today that are buried, to help them connect with what was going on forty years ago.

John Legend: Wow, that's a good idea. That's interesting I'm very surprised by that, about the Post. That's a good question, what should be covered that isn't being covered. I don't know, it's hard to say because if it's not being reported then I probably haven't read about it!

The issue I focus on the most is extreme poverty. I think it's kind of out of sight out of mind. I wish there would be more stories about that to connect people to what's happening. To personalize it, to make it real to people, to inspire them to action.


Birmingham, AL: Thank you for remembering that there were others who helped to change our world and better race relations. I have a family member who was a leader in our small community and was jailed and threatened and he changed things locally for us. Do you think that the country is ready for a man who is the son of a black man to become president? If so, are the young people ready to step up and make changes in their lives, inspired by Mr. Obama, to take responsibility for their lives and the direction of our country?

John Legend: I think America is ready to elect Barack. It's not insert-any-black-man-here and they would vote for him, but Barack is a unique and special person. And so I don't really like the question of "is America ready for a black president?" because it's more about the specific individual. And the thing is, the people who wouldn't vote for a person because they're black wouldn't vote for a democrat anyway. And so I think it's all about the right candidate and I think Barack is the right candidate and part of what is great about him is that he really is inspiring young people to participate and they really are getting involved, going door to door, voting, contributing small amounts of money, which I haven't really seen before.

I would like to see this idea of expanding the national service requirement implemented and give young people a chance to be involved in their communities and give back to the country. They want to work, they just want someone to tell them what to do. They aren't as selfish and apathetic as we think they are.


Washington, DC: Do you ever miss being a consultant? Do you ever think about how your life could be very different?

John Legend: No, I don't! I enjoyed it and I learned a lot but I definitely knew what I wanted to do and I'm doing it now.


Arlington, Va.: Dear John,

I saw your interview on Kojo Namby's show and you commented that you majored in English so that you could read and think critically, I was really moved by that. I'm also VERY moved by your music - or better it makes this middle aged white woman get up and move - I really enjoy it!

John Legend: Well, thank you!


Laurel, MD: I am a big fan of yours and I am wondering what's next musically for you? Do you have a new album in the works? Any summer tour plans?

John Legend: I'll be a few festivals in the summer and some promotion for the album but the real tour will start in the fall.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think pretty people have it easier? Do you think you and Alicia Keys could just play chopsticks and people would say, "Like wow, that was amazing." I think so.

John Legend: Not exactly, but I think this business is somewhat focused on the external and not just how you sound and the content of your character. But that's driven by the consumer more than anything else. Record companies just sell what people want to buy. I think people want their music to come with nice packaging, for better or for worse.


Bermuda Concert: John, I saw you perform in Atlanta in January 2008 when Patti Labelle performed also. You are the greatest. When are you coming to Bermuda to do a concert??!!

John Legend: Whenever they'll have me I'll come to Bermuda! I was supposed to come for a festival a couple years ago but it got rained out.


Washington, D.C.: What is your new album going to sound like?

John Legend: This will be the most upbeat album I've done so far, tempo-wise. The production is a little more upbeat and fun this time. The last album was a little more mellow and romantic and this one is just more fun.


Chicago, IL: What was it about Senator Obama that inspired your support?

John Legend: I already explained that I think he's a man of great character and judgment but it's really impressive to me, for someone who supposedly is lacking in experience, that he has really run a fantastic campaign with so few mistakes. He's got a great ground operation, he's stayed on message, he's raised astronomical amounts of money and the effectiveness of it makes me feel like he's going to be an effective president.


John Legend: Well our time is up now. I want to thank everyone for the questions and encourage everyone to watch the documentary. Make sure you vote in the primaries or general election. And make sure you buy my album in September!


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