Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

John Legend’s Strong Words

John Legend (left), shown performing with, told lawmakers Tuesday that Americans cannot take prosperity for granted.(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Singer-songwriter John Legend had a stern message for lawmakers Tuesday: Just because America says she’s great doesn’t mean she always will be.

Legend was in Washington, D.C., for the launch of the Kennedy Center’s new educational initiative, “What’s Going On … NOW.”

“What’s Going On … NOW” is a “national arts and digital media campaign to inspire and engage youth” by celebrating Washington native Marvin Gaye’s iconic 1971 album, “What’s Going On” and marking the upcoming 40th anniversary of Gaye’s Kennedy Center performance of the album on May 1, 1972.

Gaye’s album, which Rolling Stone magazine ranks as the sixth-greatest album of all time, was a watershed release for Motown Records, which had resisted social themes in much of its music until Gaye broke through with an album that addressed civil rights, the war in Vietnam and even the environment.

Legend joined Kennedy Center Vice President for Education Darrell M. Ayers, Universal Music Enterprises Vice President of A & R Harry Weinger and Digital Youth Network founder Nichole Pinkard for the program’s official kickoff, which included a performance at the Kennedy Center with students from D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

During a question-and-answer session, Legend was asked what message, if any, he had for lawmakers on the Hill.

“We have to realize that we can’t just say, ‘America is great.’ It’s not self-evident that America will be great forever,” he began.

In his opinion, Legend explained, the only way for the country to continue to be a great place is if we “invest in the future.”

“We can’t just keep cutting and cutting and cutting and thinking that people are just going to figure it out on their own,” he said. “We have to realize that part of what made us great was that we had a public education system we believed in. We built up an infrastructure system we developed. We were competitive across the globe, and ahead of the rest of the globe, in addressing these things.

“[If] we decide that it is just going to be self-evident that we’re great without putting effort into it,” he said, “it’s not going to stay that way.”

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