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John Legend to sing a little and talk a lot about education at St. Petersburg show

E

ven after years of doing these sorts of things, John Legend knows it's easy to get the wrong idea.

Hear that a nine-time Grammy winner is coming to town, and it's easy to assume he'll be uncorking a full-on performance, filled with the soulful pyrotechnics that so often live up to his stage name.

But what Legend will bring to St. Petersburg on Tuesday is a bit different. Billed as "An Intimate Evening with John Legend," the event features the singer talking about his second greatest passion: education.

"One of the more important things we need to do as a society is make sure the light of a quality education is extended to more people in America," said Legend, 32, who will be raising money for education programs administered by the United Way in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

"People accept (as) reality that, if you grow up in a bad neighborhood or if you're poor, you're just destined to not succeed in life," said the singer, a son of a seamstress and factory worker who credits his education at the University of Pennsylvania for his own success. "We know that we can do better."

He may have a supermodel girlfriend and status as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people, but Legend also works hard for education causes, founding a charity called the Show Me Campaign in 2007.

In St. Petersburg, he'll only play four or five songs accompanied just by a piano (singers from the St. Petersburg Boys and Girls Clubs are also expected to perform). But he's got lots more to say about education and politics:

How do you get fans fired up about education reform?

Well, a lot of it is about getting them to understand that staying informed on these issues actually makes a difference. I think sometimes people hear arguing back and forth and they just don't know how to tell the difference between what's really going to make an impact and what's not. We're trying to help them become more informed voters.

A big issue here in Florida is the No Child Left Behind education initiatives championed by former President George W. Bush and his brother, our former governor Jeb Bush.

People have kind of overdemonized No Child Left Behind, I think, because it's so draconian in some of its labeling of schools that are failing. … But I do believe (it) has introduced the idea that we need to measure our schools and our students' progress. We do have to have data, we do have to have measurement, we do have to have accountability.

But isn't there a concern about teaching just to boost students' scores?

That's what a lot of people are frustrated about, but that doesn't have to be the case. People talk about tests like they're some exotic thing that kids can't possibly grasp, but at the end of the day, it's just asking a kid to prove that they know something.

You talk about some of this stuff in your music, particularly the song Shine you contributed to the education documentary Waiting for Superman and the album full of protest songs you did with the Roots, Wake Up!

Yeah, it's not the most popular thing to do. We knew (Wake Up!) wasn't going to be, you know, playing next to Lady Gaga on the top 40 station. (But) we actually sold about 500,000 copies of the album, which is not bad for that kind of project, and we won three Grammys and got a lot of great press and attention. And so I think in a lot of ways it was an effective album release.

Why don't more artists do such records? When you meld a strong social statement with music, you can't beat that kind of connection.

Well, that might be your favorite thing to hear but it might not be everybody else's, you know? (laughs) And, you know, I write a lot of love songs and those are pretty popular (laughs) so, you know, you can't really argue with that.

An Intimate Evening

with John Legend

The R&B star speaks about education, with a few songs, too, at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Progress Energy's Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. $85 and $55. mahaffeytheater.com; (727) 892-5798.

John Legend to sing a little and talk a lot about education at St. Petersburg show 12/07/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 3:30am]

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