Music World Honors John Lewis: Jennifer Hudson, Billy Porter, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry And More Pay Tribute To The Late Civil Rights Icon

John Lewis

Photo: Jeff Hutchens/Getty Images


Music World Honors John Lewis: Jennifer Hudson, Billy Porter, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry And More Pay Tribute To The Late Civil Rights Icon

A lifelong public servant and civil rights leader, Lewis was an instrumental figure in the ongoing fight for racial justice and equality in the U.S.

GRAMMYs/Jul 19, 2020 - 01:16 am

Across social media, the music world is honoring Congressman John Lewis, an iconic leader of the civil rights movement, who died Friday (July 17) following a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer. 

"Rest In Peace congressman, civil rights icon, John Lewis! We thank u and will always remember you and celebrate you for your work," GRAMMY winner Jennifer Hudson wrote on Instagram.

"This is the man that taught us all how to get into some #GoodTrouble," GRAMMY-winning performer, singer and actor Billy Porter tweeted. "One of my heroes. A true legend. Thank you for teaching us how to fight for liberty & justice for all mankind … "

Speaker Of The U.S. House Of Representatives Nancy Pelosi confirmed Lewis' death in a statement on Friday (July 17), Rolling Stone reports.

"John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation – from the determination with which he met discrimination at lunch counters and on Freedom Rides, to the courage he showed as a young man facing down violence and death on Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the moral leadership he brought to the Congress for more than 30 years," Pelosi said in her statement. 

"It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis," his family said in a statement, according to Rolling Stone. "He was honored and respected as the conscience of the U.S. Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed."

Born a son of sharecroppers in 1940 in Troy, Ala., Lewis was an instrumental figure in the ongoing fight for racial justice and equality. A lifelong public servant and civil rights leader, serving more than three decades in Congress, he got his start in politics as a student activist. He was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights activists "who challenged segregated interstate travel in the South in 1961," according to The New York Times, and was the last surviving member of the Big Six, a group of civil rights leaders that included Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young. Lewis also helped organize the 1963 March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom, where he spoke and where King Jr. delivered his eternal "I Have A Dream" speech. 

In 1965, as part of the Selma-to-Montgomery protest marches, Lewis led a march comprising 600 people who were demanding equal voting rights. When he and the group of nonviolent activists reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., they were severely beaten by state troopers, who had previously ordered the protestors to disperse. Dozens of protestors were injured and hospitalized, including Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull after a trooper hit him with a billy club, according to the New York Times. 

The highly televised event, which came to be infamously known as "Bloody Sunday" and immortalized in the 2014 film Selma, sparked outrage across the U.S. and helped galvanize support for the Voting Rights Act, according to The New York Times.

Presented to Congress by President Lyndon B. Johnson eight days after the violent confrontation, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in August 1965, marking a milestone moment in the civil rights movement and removing previously installed legal barriers that prevented Black people from exercising their right to vote, according to HISTORY. The law would ultimately help Black citizens run for, and win, public office, including Lewis himself, The New York Times writes. 

Read: GRAMMY-Nominated Arranger Armand Hutton On Racial Divisions In The U.S.: "To A POC, It Has Always Been This Way"

Throughout his decades-long career in the U.S. government, representing Georgia's 5th congressional district, which includes Atlanta, Lewis became known as "the conscience of the Congress" for his focus on the ongoing fight for universal social and racial justice. Having been arrested for participating in nonviolent movements and protests dozens of times throughout the decades, he lived by the mantra of getting into "good trouble" in the name of equality. The maxim inspired the title of the newly released documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble, which follows his life and legacy.

Lewis remained active in his later years. In 2016, he led a sit-in on the House floor in which he and other Democrats demanded a vote for gun control measures following the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. 

Most recently, he was vocal about the killing of George Floyd and other Black people by police and has commended the resulting Black Lives Matter protests and movements. 

"The way this young man died—watching the video, it made me so sad," Lewis said of Floyd in an interview with "CBS This Morning" in June. "It was so painful; it made me cry. I kept saying to myself, 'How many more? How many more young Black men will be murdered?'

"It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets—to speak up, to speak out, to get in what I call 'good trouble' … "

Last month, Lewis visited the newly erected Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., alongside the city's mayor, Muriel Bowser.

A beloved politician and social figure, Lewis transcended politics and entered mainstream pop culture. Actor Stephan James portrayed Lewis in the 2014 Oscar-winning film, Selma. Lewis also made a cameo in the music video to Young Jeezy's 2008 track "My President," which is inspired by President Barack Obama and features Nas. Lewis guest starred on the animated children's TV show "Arthur" in 2018. 

Elsewhere, Lewis released his award-winning autobiography, "Walking With The Wind: A Memoir Of The Movement, in 1998. He also released "March," his autobiographical graphic novel series about the civil rights movement, throughout the mid-2010s.

In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, considered to be the nation's highest civilian honor.

Following the death of John Lewis, artists from the music and entertainment worlds commemorated the late icon. 

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Masterful Remixer Giles Martin On The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' The Beatles, Paul McCartney
Giles Martin

Photo: Alex Lake | C A Management


Masterful Remixer Giles Martin On The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' The Beatles, Paul McCartney

Ahead of his spectacular, Dolby Atmos-elevated remix of the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' Giles Martin discusses the pressures and jubilation of handling such a precious album.

GRAMMYs/Jun 2, 2023 - 02:06 pm

Bicycle bells, Coca-Cola cans, sleigh bells, water bottles, French horn, Electro-Theremin — and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Compared to even ambitious Beatles masterpieces like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, remixing the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is an entirely different beast. While the Fabs' recordings were often deceptively sparse — "Taxman" is guitars, bass, drums and vocals — Pet Sounds is an ocean of eccentric, melancholic, joyful sound.

Astonishingly — by today's standards — the album was initially recorded to a four-track machine. A student of the studio might assume that remixing the such a record would require  some form of sacrifice during the remixing process, wherein various elements would have to be buried, or excised, to bring another to the light.

Giles Martin, who has remixed Sgt. Pepper's, The White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be, and Revolver — and now Pet Sounds, for Dolby Atmos — has an incisive answer.

"Will I sacrifice taste or feel for the sake of it being an Atmos mix? If that starts getting compromised, then let's make it mono," two-time GRAMMY winner Martin tells "It doesn't make any sense to affect the integrity of a song for the use of technology. Technology should be there to serve the music, as opposed to the other way around.

"I don't want people to listen to an Atmos mix I've done; I want people to listen to a song," he continues. "My mix is just a small part in the process."

But sitting in complete darkness in a Dolby screening room on Sixth Avenue in New York City, it was difficult to think of Martin's touch as being a "small part."

This version of Pet Sounds was nothing short of revelatory — shining up each Beach Boy's vocals, unburying numberless exotic instruments, mapping the musical elements in physical space. All without compromising Brian Wilson's timbral and harmonic syntheses that characterize this art-rock cornerstone.

Read on for a candid interview with Martin about his remixing philosophy, moving from the Beatles space to the Beach Boys space and what he wants to improve about his methodology — in short, "everything."

The Atmos mix of Pet Sounds is available now on Amazon Music, Tidal and Apple Music; stream it here.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

During Beatles listening events, there's a little bit of tension between yourself and that fan community. This Beach Boys event seemed to possess a completely different energy — less antagonistic, more of a lovefest. What's it been like moving from the Beatles world to the Beach Boys world as per their fan communities?

I don't know — I think that I may not be perceiving it right [laughs].

I never felt that there was a huge amount of antagonism with the Beatles thing. I think to begin with, there was. With the early days of me, certainly, doing Love, ironically, there was a suspicion of what I was up to — what are my motives, and what gives you the right to screw around with these tracks, and who the hell do you think you are, and that sort of thing.

I think there's been a sort of shift in a level of trust, hopefully, that people don't realize that I deliberately do this to try and screw things up.

I was actually more nervous going to a Beach Boys playback than I was going to a Beatles playback. With the Beatles, I kind of know where I am — and regardless of what anyone may think, I probably have more experience on this than most other people do.

The Beach Boys, I don't. It's my first rodeo, if you like, so I was probably a bit more nervous addressing their audience.

"Antagonism" is probably too strong a word. Just a little bit of tension in the air, when somebody's like, "What happened to that guitar squeak at 2:01 on 'Taxman,' Giles? Would you like to explain yourself?"

That always makes me laugh. There are two guys who are those people, and they come and listen in the studios. They came around recently for something, and they were like, "Well, we heard something at this moment."

I'll always listen and respect what they say, but then I'll just go… I do have Paul and Ringo. So they'll just go, "Well, we think it's fine."

I think what you are alluding to is there's a sense of ownership that people have over Beatles music. But I think that's the case with Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys as well.

From a business standpoint, what's it been like docking your spaceship on a new mothership?

I pay no attention to the business side of stuff. It's the same record label, actually — Capitol. I have a really good relationship with them, and they're great.

They know what they're getting themselves into by asking me to do stuff, which means that generally, things will be late; I'll miss deadlines. But they also know that I'll take care. And I think part of my job is, obviously, listening to what people have to say, and listening to and collaborating with other people on this, and doing it.

What role did the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds play in your life up to this point? Obviously, you're steeped in this overall miasma due to your lineage.

It's funny: as I said to my dad <a href="">legendary Beatles producer [George Martin], "It's amazing the work you did." And he was like, "Yeah, but I mean, compared to what Brian Wilson did when he was just on his own — you need to go listen to that." And so I did, and I suppose that there's an otherworldliness to it.

Just as a producer, or someone who loves music, Pet Sounds could not be ignored, because it's so intricate in the way it is, and it's an album that gets better the more you listen to it as well. And I hope that is sustainable in times of TikTok where people only have a short amount of time to pay anything attention.

I suppose that I wouldn't have agreed to do it if it wasn't important to me.You have to give it your all; you have to spend a lot of time listening to this music. It's such an important and influential record — not just for other people, but for me as well.

You mentioned during the listening party that you didn't have to employ the same AI techniques to unglue the tracks as you did on Revolver. Can you elaborate?

I wouldn't say it was unglued. If you imagine on, for instance, "That's Not Me," essentially, the band are kind of on three tracks a lot. So, they're stuck.

And "That's Not Me" has drums, organ, tambourine on one track. So, I can't move the organ or tambourine away from the drums. They have to be on one side. And I have bass and lead guitar on another track, so bass and guitar are going to be in the same place no matter what I do.

But there's an intent with this, where it's unlike having a band like the Beatles. This isn't really a band record; it's more of an orchestral record. It has a backing to it.

There's not really a drum kit on Pet Sounds, per se. There's drums on one or two tracks, but there's not really a drum kit. It's like orchestral percussion. So it's fine having those things glued together. Whereas on something like "Taxman," we have guitar, bass and drums — and only guitar, bass and drums going on for the whole song.

If you want to have a stereo record, you have to separate them — because otherwise, they're just on one side and the vocals on the other side; there's no reality. But with this, you have chunks of musicians in a room, and then you can create this real world around it.

Brian Wilson rightfully soaks up the lion's share of the discourse around Pet Sounds; he crafted the record. But in this process, what did you learn about them as per their group dynamic? You alluded to their vocal precision during the listening event. I love Carl and Bruce's vocals on "God Only Knows." I know that Carl and Dennis played on the record in a limited capacity.

I don't know what I learned that I didn't already know, apart from the fact that — this is what people miss — bands exist with resentment, and everything else. But bands exist because they're human beings in a room. The fact that you don't hear someone doesn't mean that they're not having influence.

With the Beach Boys, obviously, you hear their incredible harmonies. And Brian couldn't have done what he did without having the palette of outstanding musicianship, and the ability for these guys to harmonize and create these vocals that can't exist anywhere else.

So, that's what I suppose you hear. You hear the other members of the band come in on tracks, as you alluded to, and you suddenly think — not that it's a relief, but it's like, Oh my god, this is a band. This isn't just Brian. That's what I took from it.

I could genuinely sit there and think about the Beach Boys on a conceptual level and be entertained for hours. But is there a danger of overthinking an artifact like Pet Sounds? Or is it a fount for infinite analysis and edification?

No, I think you are absolutely right. You can take the fun out of it — and people do frequently — by being too pretentious about things. I find this quite amusing. It's almost like the song becomes the ownership of the journalist — or the expert, if you like — and not the person listening to it.

People are told what to listen to, and what to listen out for, in a sort of educational way: "You don't really understand this." It's that sort of thing: "If only you knew you knew how good this was, you'd be able to like it." That sort of conversation. "Music isn't like how it used to be, because it's not as good as this," and all this sort of conversation.

It's absolutely rubbish. It's like, let people enjoy what they want to enjoy. As long as you're passionate about something, it doesn't make a difference whether you like Megadeth or the Beach Boys.

You recently worked on a refreshed version of Paul McCartney's "Live or Let Die." That song is such a mind movie — and not just because it has James Bond roots. I'm sure you had fun with that one.

It was great. It's a bit like a lot of the projects I do; the expectancy is so vast spread.

It's quite tricky; how do you meet the expectation? Because one thing that mono or stereo or compression gives you, is it gives you loudness. You separate stuff in an immersive soundfield, you have to be careful that you don't start losing impact.

One thing that "Live and Let Die" has is impact. And that's the tricky thing about that song. But I'm really happy. It was actually a big mix to do; I can't lie. It was like, "Oh my god, here we go; I have to be fully qualified to do this mix."

But I'm really happy with it. I can't wait for people to hear it. I think it's super cool.

How do you want to get better at what you do? Where do you want to improve?

Oh, god. "Everywhere" is the answer. I think you are never done. It's only sometimes I hear things back and go, Oh, that actually sounds quite good. Oh, I did that. That's alright. Otherwise, you sort of hate everything.

I nervously watched you [all] through a screen in New York going, Oh my god, it sounds terrible. That's what goes through my head.

You still struggle with that, huh?

Yeah, of course. And then the thing is, I don't think, What if it sounds terrible? because of ego. It's, What if it sounds terrible because you guys really like this record and I need to do it justice? That's what goes through my head.

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Nas performing in 2002, the year of his now-iconic Webster Hall performance that will be available on vinyl as part of Record Store Day 2023.

Photo: L. Cohen/WireImage


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Celebrate Record Store Day this April 22 by stocking up on new, exclusive LPs from Taylor Swift, Björk, The Rolling Stones and more at your local participating record store.

GRAMMYs/Apr 18, 2023 - 02:34 pm

From Post Malone to Peppa Pig vinyls, record stores around the world are stocking up on limited exclusive releases for Record Store Day 2023.

Held annually every April since 2007, the event honors independently owned record stores and the unity of fans and artists. This year, many stores will globally welcome more than 300 limited, exclusive records ranging from rock to jazz to rap on April 22.

With former official ambassadors including Taylor Swift, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Jack White, Chuck D, and St. Vincent, Record Store Day celebrates music of all genres. And that's exactly the case with this year's lineup of special releases, spanning from Miles Davis to Beach House.

In honor of Record Store Day 2023, get excited about these 10 limited, exclusive releases dropping in your local participating store.

The 1975 — I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it: Live With The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Serving as the official Record Store Day UK Ambassadors this year, the 1975 take us back to 2016 with their second LP, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it — this time, along with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Available for the first time on double clear vinyl, this orchestral version of the British rock band's second studio album also features a version of their breakout hit, "Chocolate."

Miles Davis — TURNAROUND: Unreleased Rare Vinyl from On the Corner

Miles Davis' album On the Corner celebrated its 50th birthday last October, and its innovation takes yet another turn on Record Store Day. Titled Turnaround, this sky-blue vinyl features four cuts from the expanded 2007 album The Complete On The Corner Sessions, also offering appearances from Herbie Hancock, Dave Liebman and Bennie Maupin.

Björk — the fossora remixes

Fill your record collection with some flora and fauna — natural, eccentric scarlet and green patterns adorn each vinyl sleeve of Björk's exclusive the fossora remixes. The release features two dynamic songs: A1 Ovule featuring Shygirl (Sega Bodega remix) and A2 Atopos (sideproject remix).

Beach House — Become

Fourteen months after psychedelic pop duo Beach House unveiled their eighth studio album, Once Twice Melody, they continue the story with a new EP. Titled Become, the five-song project — which is available on crystal-clear vinyl on Record Store Day — features five formerly unreleased songs from their 2022 LP.

Nas — Made You Look: God's Son Live 2002

Just over 20 years ago, Nas gave a spectacular performance at Webster Hall in New York City, further solidifying his status as a legend of East Coast hip-hop. The spirited 20-song concert now appears on vinyl for the first time, with familiar artwork calling back to its original DVD release in 2003.

Dolly Parton — The Monument Singles Collection 1964-1968

More than six decades into her career, Dolly Parton joins the Record Store Day fun with a celebration of her early years. The country legend's remastered singles from the 1960s are hitting record store shelves, and the special first-time collection also features liner notes from two-time GRAMMY nominee Holly George-Warren.

The Rolling Stones — Beggars Banquet

As the Rolling Stones sang of "a swirling mass of grey, blue, black, and white" on "Salt Of The Earth," the rock band's upcoming limited vinyl for Beggars Banquet will be pressed with a swirl pattern of the same four colors in tribute. The group merges classic rock with their blues roots on Beggars Banquet, and the vinyl of their 1968 critically-acclaimed album features the original artwork and window display poster.

Taylor Swift — folklore: the long pond studio sessions

In September 2020, Taylor Swift's GRAMMY-winning album folklore was reimagined at New York's Long Pond Studio with a pair of the singer's closest collaborators, Aaron Dessner (The National) and Jack Antonoff (fun./Bleachers). And in November that year, fans got to witness those sessions in a Disney+ documentary. Now, more than two years later, the serene album's acoustic studio sessions are available on vinyl for the first time, including four sides and bonus track "the lakes."

'Ol Dirty Bastard — Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

ODB's memory lives on in the vinyl rerelease of his iconic 1995 debut album, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. Featuring the 2020 remasters of 15 tracks, this drop is the first posthumous release from ODB since 2011, but not the first time fans have heard his voice since then: SZA's SOS track "Forgiveless" concludes with a previously unreleased verse from the late rapper.

Donna Summer — A Hot Summer Night (40th Anniversary Edition)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Donna Summer's momentous Hard For The Money Tour. This exclusive vinyl celebrates the Queen of Disco in all her glory, capturing her live concert at Costa Mesa's Pacific Amphitheatre from August 1983. The vinyl offers performances by special guests Musical Youth, her sisters Dara and Mary Ellen, and her eldest daughter Mimi.

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Billy Porter Is Ready To Show Fans His True Musical Side: "You're Not Gonna Want To Stop Listening"
Billy Porter

Photo: Republic Records


Billy Porter Is Ready To Show Fans His True Musical Side: "You're Not Gonna Want To Stop Listening"

After captivating audiences in "Kinky Boots" on Broadway and the culture-shifting series "Pose," Billy Porter makes his return to music with a new album that sheds light on his life and journey.

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2023 - 03:01 pm

Twenty-six years after Billy Porter's debut album Untitled hit stores, the multihyphenate artist is releasing a second album of original music — but this time, he's doing it entirely his way. It's a point of pride for Porter, whose 1997 debut forced him to submerge his Broadway career success — and sexuality — to appeal to mainstream R&B audiences.

For four years, Porter's then-label, DV8 Records, worked on crafting the perfect persona for the singer. And after making many difficult compromises, Untitled was released in 1997 with minimal promotion. This led the "Show Me" singer to a heart-wrenching realization: It was time to walk away from his deal and take his career into his own hands. 

Decades of hard work and seized opportunities later, Porter has amassed a trove of professional milestones while blazing trails for emerging LGBTQ performers of color. He became the first Black gay man to win a lead acting Emmy for his performance in the acclaimed drama "Pose," earned a GRAMMY and a Tony for his role in "Kinky Boots," wrote an off-Broadway play and a best-selling memoir before stepping behind the lens to direct the 2022 trans coming-of-age rom-com, "Anything's Possible."

Along the way, music was always on Porter's mind — though he had released three cover albums in that time, his sights were set on developing an original project when he signed with Republic Records in 2021. Working with prolific singer-songwriter Justin Tranter — who's written hits for Britney Spears, Selena Gomez, Linkin Park, Justin Bieber and more — Porter has ensured that his fifth studio album reflects his journey and how far he's come since walking away from DV8 Records nearly 30 years ago. 

Now, Porter is kicking off his return with the infectiously catchy, dance-club single "Baby Was a Dancer," which recounts his journey to empowerment and showcases the real Billy — unlike his 1997 debut and its broader themes of love and desire. As Porter puts the finishing touches on his new album, he's already hard at work putting together a production for his forthcoming summer tour — the first solo outing of his musical career — and he's leaving no stone unturned. caught up with Porter to chat about his new single, upcoming album, and how you can never put baby in a corner.

The past decade has been such a whirlwind for you. You've conquered TV, film and red carpets, won an Emmy, a Tony and a GRAMMY, wrote a memoir and directed a rom-com. Was there a standout moment for you among all these huge milestones?

That's a really interesting question. I think it's more about the culmination of being able to vibrate in all of these spaces that I've had the dream of doing all at the same time. And feeling redeemed in doing. There were so many naysayers at the beginning of my career telling me that I couldn't do everything — that I had to choose one thing. I stand before you as proof positive that that isn't true.

What stands out is that I get to do all of them, at the same time. All of the hyphens, all at the same time. That's really not something that happens very often.

I've been playing your new single "Baby Was a Dancer" on a loop and can't wait for it to drop so I can add it to my "going out" playlist. How did that song come together?

I signed with Republic Records, and they hooked me up with Justin Tranter and his camp. We really had a great time just learning about each other. The team focused on learning about me and what I wanted to say to the world. All of the songs that emerged from my working sessions on this album. My writing sessions on this album really were very, very personal.

If you listen to the lyrics of "Baby Was a Dancer," it tells the story of my journey in this business — and in the world. What I was told that I could and couldn't be — and how you can't keep baby in a corner.

It's such an upbeat song with an empowering personal message. A total 180 from your debut album.

What I love about this time around for me in the music industry — and the mainstream music industry, in particular — is that the material is actually coming from me. The stories, the message, the point, all of it is coming specifically from me out of my own mouth, which is really nice. All of the songs on the album, it's all my story, in one form or another, and that is really exciting.

Are there any plans to release a music video? Because the bootleg choreography I came up with is not going to cut it.

Well, that's an interesting conversation because everything is reduced to an algorithm these days, particularly in the music industry via TikTok. They do not support music videos anymore. Apparently, the attention span is too short, and people are more interested in content associated with a particular single, and that's what pushes the single and downloads, and that's what drives sales.

So unfortunately, with this one, we are trying to set it up so that we can push it out. This time around, it's gonna be more about expanding my social media presence, particularly on TikTok.

I came up during the golden age of music videos in the '90s, so I'm bummed about this pivot to shorter dance clips on social media.

Me, too! I'm not happy about it, but I'm trying to do what's best. [Laughs.]

Will the new album be as danceable and high-energy as the new single? Or are you going to mix it up?

Because I've been in the business for so long, I have vibrated in so many different kinds of spaces, particularly musically. I have sung all types of music in my life. I've recorded all types of music in my life. So this album has a real eclectic energy to it.

In terms of the sound, I think there is something for everybody. What makes it cohesive is me. What makes it cohesive is my musical history. It's vast. It's deep. I'm not new. I'm true to this. I've been doing it since the early '80s. When I listen to the record, it really does hit all types of genres.

I'm excited about that because it's not just a singles thing, you know. We've grown into this space where it's about the single. And there are many, many singles. And it can be about the single; it can exist in that space as well. But I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they press play on track one, and they don't want to stop listening to it for 14 tracks. You're not gonna want to stop listening.

Albums with 14 tracks are incredibly rare nowadays.

Well, I had some s— to say! [Laughs.]

Did the album come together quickly, or did the process take a while?

Because of my schedule, it wasn't too long. It probably took me a year or so, from when I started earnestly working on it. I did some stuff in my studio in Pittsburgh while I was directing my movie. Then I did some in LA and New York. I sort of recorded wherever I was traveling and working.

Last November you released a song called "Stranger Things," after an overwhelmingly positive response to your performance at the Global Citizens Festival. You've described the track as a "call to action," and I personally took it as a much-needed reminder that there's work to do and no time to dwell. What made you realize that the world needed to hear this particular message right now?

I wrote that song with the late-great Andrea Martin, a couple of months before her untimely death. This space that we're in is challenging, and there's work to be done. And yes, when they go low, we go high. And what does going high look like in this new world order?

One of the things that I've been leaning into is, with age comes wisdom. I wear my age like a badge of honor. I've earned it. I'm 53 years old and not embarrassed about it. And one of the things that was really striking to me and re-traumatizing to me during COVID was that it felt very eerily similar to what we queer people went through during the AIDS crisis. What I wanted to say with the song — and what I want people to remember — is that none of this is new. And the fact that we don't know our history is, I think, one of the reasons why there's so much panic surrounding it.

Exactly. As they say, the past teaches us about the present.

Yes. And it does us a disservice. Our news outlets, and the way it's covered very often, pisses me off because it's covered as if it's new. And what I wanted to say with the song is that stranger things have already happened to us. We are resilient, and we will get through this with love. Don't be afraid. Don't be terrified. Stop claiming that and stand up for what is right. Stand up for what we know is right and get out in these streets and fight for it.

There's no time to be fatigued. There's no time to be terrified. We have work to do. And that song is a call to action. And music is a universal language. It's always been the way that I have communicated my views to the world.

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John Legend sings for students at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 2012.

Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images


8 Artists Who Were Inspired By Their Teachers: Rihanna, Adele, Jay-Z & More

In honor of Music In Our Schools Month this March, take a look at how teachers made a heartwarming impact on superstars like Katy Perry and John Legend.

GRAMMYs/Mar 16, 2023 - 03:55 pm

Before Rihanna, Billy Joel and Jay-Z became some of the biggest names in music, they were students just like the rest of us. Without some particularly special teachers, they might not be the superstars they are today, and they all remember who first encouraged them.

Within the past few years, Rihanna made a special trip to a cricket match in England to reunite with her old P.E. teacher from Barbados, who she calls her "MVP"; Joel traveled back to his New York hometown to honor the teacher who said he should be a professional musician; and Jay-Z told David Letterman that his sixth grade English teacher made him fall in love with words. 

In honor of Music In Our Schools Month — which raises awareness for supporting and cultivating worthwhile music programs in K-12 — highlights eight artists who have praised their teachers for making a lifelong impact.

Billy Joel

After watching Joel tackle Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23, his high school music appreciation teacher Chuck Arnold suggested that he consider music as a career.

"He said to me, you should be a professional musician," Joel recalled of his Hicksville High School mentor during a 1996 event at C.W. Post College. "Now, for a teacher to say that, it's like condemning someone to a life of poverty, drug taking, alcoholism and failure.

"A teacher is telling me this," he added seriously. "It had a huge influence on me."

In 2022, Joel was on hand to congratulate Arnold during the dedication of the Charles "Chuck" Arnold Theatre at the school. "This is for the coolest teacher there ever was," he praised.


In 2019, CBS Sunday arranged a surprise visit with the singer and Manny Gonzales, the former band director at her alma mater, Elsik High School in Houston. She told the network that Gonzales helped her get a scholarship to study classical flute at University of Houston.

"You told my ass!" Lizzo exclaimed as she squeezed him. "You were like, 'Get it together, girl, 'cause you are special. Apply yourself!' Those moments meant so much to me."

Lil Jon

The Atlanta DJ/producer and king of crunk has done more than take parties to the next level — he has invested in the educational future of children in Africa by building two schools in Ghana with the non-profit organization Pencils of Promise. He credits a mentor at Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta for sparking his brain when he was a teenager.

"It was my music teacher [who inspired me to dream bigger]," he said in a 2019 interview with Yahoo! "I wanted to play drums, and if I didn't play drums, I wouldn't make music, and drums are the foundation for what I do."


Roddy Estwick was Rihanna's P.E. teacher in Barbados and is now the assistant coach of the West Indies cricket team. The two had an emotional reunion at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England.

"He made a lasting impact on my life and he really offered great advice to me and many others when we were at school at Combermere," she told Barbados Today amid their reunion. "I just wanted to let everyone know what he meant to me in my development and what he did for us back at school in Barbados." Essence reported that Rihanna described him as, "My mentor, my champ, my MVP" on her Instagram stories.

John Legend

The Ohio native credits his English teacher Mrs. Bodey at North High School in Springfield for setting him on the path that culminated in his music career.

"Until her class, I hadn't believed in my ability as a writer," Legend shared in a 2017 op-ed for Huffington Post. "She recognized my potential and showed me that I could write with creativity, with clarity, with passion."

He continued, "Mrs. Bodey, along with a few other teachers, helped me gain confidence in my skills and pushed me to challenge myself. They pushed me to graduate second in my class. They pushed me to deliver the speech at our graduation. They pushed me to earn a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, to hone my writing as an English Major and, ultimately, toward a successful career as a songwriter."


The singer was reunited with the most pivotal teacher in her life during her "An Audience with Adele" concert special in 2021. While the singer took questions from the crowd, actress Emma Thompson asked Adele if she had a supporter or protector in the past.

"I had a teacher at [south London high school] Chestnut Grove, who taught me English. That was Miss McDonald," Adele said. "She got me really into English literature. Like, I've always been obsessed with English and obviously now I write lyrics… She really made us care, and we knew that she cared about us."

Miss McDonald then surprised Adele on stage, and the singer was brought to tears — a touching highlight of the special. She even told her former teacher that she still has the books from her class!

Katy Perry

While Perry has admitted that she wishes she had a better overall education, her former music school teacher gave her confidence to pursue singing seriously.

"I'm kind of bummed at this stage that I didn't have a great education because I could really use that these days," she said in a 2014 interview with Yahoo! "There was a teacher named Agatha Danoff who was my vocal teacher and music teacher at the Music Academy of the West. It was very fancy and I didn't come from any money… and she always used to give me a break on my lessons. I owe her a lot of credit and I appreciate that she looked out for me when I didn't have enough money to pay."


Picture a young Shawn Carter — now better known as Jay-Z —  with his head stuck in a dictionary.

"I had a sixth grade teacher, her name was Ms. Lowden and I just loved the class so much," Jay-Z said during his appearance on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman in 2018. 

He later realized how much Renee Rosenblum-Lowden, who taught him at Intermediate School 318 in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, had an influence on his passion for language. "Like, reading the dictionary and just my love of words," he explained. "I just connected with her."

"I knew he was extremely bright, but he was quiet," Rosenblum-Lowden told Brut in 2019, sharing that he scored at the 12th-grade level on a sixth-grade reading test.

"He's been very kind," she added. "Every famous person has a teacher who probably influenced them, and I wish they would all shout out the way Jay-Z did."

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