John Legend performs at Singletary: Grammy-winner talks education, surprises crowd with 7 songs



About 1,300 people showed up to the Singletary Center Tuesday evening to have what they thought would be “A Conversation with John Legend.”  But patrons arrived to find a piano sitting next to the podium, indicating the Grammy award-winning artist would perform sometime throughout the night.

“We ended up selling out of tickets,” said Priska Ndege, a Student Activities Board member and a chair on their Multicultural Affairs committee. “I’m very happy the UK and Lexington community came out to support. I was happy with the message. It’s something people needed to hear and he’s passionate about what he speaks about.”

Right in line with a tweet from Legend a few hours before he showed up on Singletary’s stage — “Just arrived in Lexington, KY! Speaking/performing at UK tonight” — he performed seven songs including “Get Lifted,” “Used to Love You” and “Ordinary People.”

Audience members erupted in applause and sang lyrics along with Legend on the piano.

SAB, the hosting student organization, didn’t give word prior to Tuesday that Legend would be performing and had advertised the event as a speaking engagement as a part of their Engaging Issues series.

“We didn’t want to make it seem like a concert,” Ndege said. “He was coming to talk about social justice and educational equality. Performing was something he decided to do on his own.”

It is true that Legend’s true reason for coming all the way to Lexington was to talk about making a change.

“Equal opportunity to education remains a gift for some, when it should be a right for all,” Legend said at the beginning of his speech.

He talked about growing up in Springfield, Ohio, as the son of a factory worker and a homemaker and called education equality “the civil rights issue of our generation.”

As a part of Teach for America week at UK, the TFA board member spoke about the national program that employs college graduates to teach in some of the country’s poorest schools, informing the audience that 46 UK alumni are currently teaching in TFA classrooms across the country, and encouraged students to apply upon graduation.

At one point, the “conversation” became political as Legend discussed issues like taxes and the upcoming 2012 presidential election. He spoke passionately about his opposition to “blindly lowering taxes for the wealthy,” reminding the audience that he was a “wealthy person” himself.

“The gap between the rich and the poor is becoming wider and wider,” Legend said. “Lowering taxes is a very popular promise to make, but governing is about making hard decisions.”

“A Conversation with John Legend” allowed students and members of the community to ask Legend questions after he spoke, right before he stepped over to the piano. Audience members asked Legend about everything from his activism to his advice for aspiring musicians.

“Luck is where opportunity meets preparation,” Legend said to the audience during a story about how he met fellow recording artist Kanye West and became famous. “You have to be prepared to take advantage when luck comes your way.”

Legend implored students to use their education, find something they were passionate about and provide service, even if they didn’t share his passion of educational equality.

“One of the greatest things about education is it gives you control over your destiny; that knowledge is power,” Legend said. “I urge you to embrace that autonomy. Always question the things you assume … always challenge the conventional wisdom.”