Wake Up! with John Legend & The Roots
Summer 2008. A time of high-stakes election campaigns beginning to gear up. There was a sense of imminent change in American national politics on the horizon, and an infusion of optimism that grew over the long months and swept up younger generations in record numbers. The country soon followed with the same optimism. Singer-songwriter John Legend included.
Legend connected the dots, drawing parallels between this newfangled sense of change and the cultural and societal shifts of the civil rights movement of the ’60s and ’70s.
And so the concept of Wake Up! was born. Further inspiration came in his recruitment of the seminal and always progressive hip-hop band, the Roots, to weigh in on the project. Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and the Roots proved to be perfect foils, sharing the same affinity for vintage soul, reggae, hip-hop, gospel and funk music, and the record was put down in Philadelphia and New York in a series of sessions that lasted nearly two years.
The album (in our coffeehouses now) plays like Legend and the Roots personally invited us over to hang out as they spun a plethora of ear-pleasing soul nuggets from ?uestlove’s legendary record collection, each song leaving us begging for more. The collabo resulted in rich versions of gems from Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, Eugene McDaniels, Baby Huey and the Babysitters, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.
Three standout cuts to mention: an incredibly faithful version of Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes’ “Wake Up Everybody,” which also features vocalist Melanie Fiona; the Donny Hathaway showstopper “Little Ghetto Boy”; and Legend’s own scintillating composition, “Shine,” which served as the tender denouement to Waiting For Superman, the latest documentary by Davis Guggenheim (previously known for An Inconvenient Truth).
Waiting For Superman concerns itself with the state of American public schools and efforts at education reform and is equally worthy of mention. The film, which follows the stories of five children and their attempts to simply get an adequate education, is shocking, frustrating, funny, hopeful, sad and ultimately rewarding.