A Discussion with John Legend

January 16

Alumnus and nine-time Grammy Award-winning recording artist John Legend returned to campus on Jan. 16 to deliver the 12th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture in Social Justice to a full house at Irvine Auditorium. The lecture was part of Penn’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium for Social Change.

The 1999 College graduate was joined by Camille Charles, director of the Center for Africana Studies and professor of sociology at Penn, who engaged Legend in a public conversation that covered his years at Penn, his entertainment career, and his social activism.

Before the talk, Charles introduced Legend at a private reception in Irvine’s Amado Recital Hall. He spoke with invited guests—members of the Penn community and city officials—posed for pictures, and received a citation from the City of Philadelphia in recognition of his humanitarian work.

Named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009, Legend has at performed numerous benefit concerts. He launched the Show Me Campaign, a non-profit organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty in the United States and around the world. He also sits on the boards of the Education Equality Project, Teach for America, and the Harlem Village Academics.

Charles opened the conversation by asking Legend to recall his journey to Penn. The musician spoke nostalgically about his early childhood in Springfield, Ohio, flying to Penn for an admissions interview, and entering the University at the age of 16. He said his music career in college extended beyond campus singing groups. He was embraced by the Philadelphia neo-soul music community.

As an alumnus, Legend is one of Penn’s biggest boosters. President Amy Gutmann welcomed him back to campus, recalling the time they both attended a White House state dinner. He was performing. She was an invited guest. In the receiving line, Gutmann shook hands with President Obama and pointed out that Legend is a Penn grad. Obama’s response? “ I know. He told me.”

Text by Jacquie Posey
Photos by Steve Minicola