John Legend, the nine-time Grammy-winning crooner whose soulful R&B songs have populated the top of the charts since the release of his debut album, 2004’s “Get Lifted,” is now being honored for his magnanimous humanitarian efforts with the NAACP President’s Award.
Legend, with 10 platinum-selling albums to his credit and an Academy Award (shared with Common) for the stirring 2014 “Selma” ballad, “Glory,” has been in partnership with the NAACP since 2013, promoting voting rights across the country and positioning himself as a staunch champion of both social justice and quality education reform for all races and ethnicities.
“When I see young people that have been protesting, I think they have been inspired by Dr. King’s legacy,” Legend told Variety prior to last year’s Oscar ceremony, speaking on the issue of black youth in America. “We’ve seen a lot of progress, and we’ve seen a lot of pain.”
Throughout his career, Legend has worked to reduce much of that pain and struggle within minority communities. In 2007, he founded the Show Me Campaign, an initiative that strives to break the cycle of poverty through education, and in 2004 he partnered with the MacArthur Foundation to launch LRNG, a program that helps educators develop tech-savvy learning projects with appeal to 21st century students. He’s also been recognized with several philanthropic honors, including the 2010 BET Humanitarian of the Year award and the 2011 Harvard Foundation Artist of the Year award.
Per NAACP president and CEO Cornell William Brooks, who chose Legend for this latest accolade, he “is a perennial favorite among our members at the Image Awards, working to promote access to high-quality education and mentoring, and in addition, working toward criminal justice reform.”
Legend also won a 2015 NAACP Image award in the music video category for his song “You & I (Nobody in the World).”
“I have been onstage next to John Legend, not at a concert, but on stage next to him while he’s speaking to some of the most powerful folks in the public policy realm and in the corporate realm,” Brooks says. “I’ve seen him also calling for a fundamental shift in the sentencing of reform. This is somebody who is not only a well-versed artist in terms of lyrics — this is also somebody who is widely read with respect to public policy reform, social justice reform and criminal justice reform. I spend quite a bit of time with people who are well-versed on issues, from a legislative perspective, from a public policy perspective, from an advocacy perspective. John is not just walking through talking points — he knows what he’s talking about.”
Prior recipients of the President’s Award include Spike Lee, Muhammad Ali and Bill Clinton. Upon learning that he would be joining this list of accomplished activists, Legend “was quite elated and enthusiastic,” Brooks says.
“He didn’t in any way convey a sense of presumptiveness. He seemed to be genuinely honored. I’m not entirely sure what he gets out of (his philanthropic work) other than a sense of doing the right thing. I think a lot of artists are far more multi-dimensional than they’re given credit for and particularly John Legend.”