LeBron James and John Legend are two men in the entertainment space who are continuously working on major new endeavors. The I Promise School founder and newly-minted EGOT, respectively, are putting their talents together to bring a fan favorite to the TV screen. According to Deadline, James and Legend will be working with writer Wendy Calhoun for a women-led CW adaptation of the biographical film, Lean on Me.
The potential series—which will bear the same name as 1989 original—follows Amarie Baldwin, a young black principal in Akron, Ohio, with hopes of resuscitating a struggling urban school. Naturally, as she overcomes daily hurdles within the walls of her workplace, she is also facing challenges at home on the love life and family front. Baldwin is subbing in for beloved lead Lean on Me character Mr. Clark, who was famously played by Morgan Freeman.
“I care deeply about issues of incarceration and criminal justice reform,” says Tulaine Montgomery, managing partner at New Profit, a philanthropic venture capital fund. It’s a passion she shares with Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter John Legend.Like Legend, whose mother cycled “in and out of jail for charges related to drug addiction” when he was growing up, Montgomery has seen the impact of prison on families firsthand.
“This idea that there is a group of people we can *other*…that we cannot advocate for – that’s not something I’ve been able to entertain,” she explains.Montgomery believes that when someone who’s been incarcerated faces barriers preventing successful re-entry into society, it doesn’t just damage them alone.On the contrary, it wreaks havoc on their extended family, community and nation, often for multiple generations.
In addition, she says that treating entire groups of people as “expendable” and “counting them out” of making productive contributions makes zero economic sense. The USA spends $80 billion a year to keep people behind bars.Once paroled, even non-violent, first-time offenders struggle to find housing, jobs, or chances for further education.Feeling locked out of opportunity and unable to sustain themselves, many end up right back in prison.It’s a costly revolving door.Providing a path to success rather than creating a class of “throwaway people” is not only morally redemptive, it’s also economically sound.
Transforming inequities and imbalances in the criminal justice system is part of the larger mission behind Unlocked Futures, a partnership between New Profit, John Legend’s Free Americacampaign, and Bank of America.A 16-month accelerator program that supports entrepreneurs who have been previously incarcerated, Unlocked Futures provides funding, leadership training, business skills building, executive coaching, content development and peer support to eight members or cohorts.
The program identifies innovative entrepreneurs whose businesses solve problems that affect those impacted by the criminal justice system.They are uniquely qualified to address the “most pressing challenges” and break down barriers, precisely because they’ve been there, Montgomery says.
It’s her belief that “someone who has served time—one of the most dehumanizing conditions we pay federal dollars to create—and emerged mentally intact and ready to lead a business, that’s a leader I want to know.”
Topeka Sam is one of the eight inaugural Unlocked Futures cohorts and a case in point.Her organization, Ladies of Hope Ministries, helps women transition from incarceration back into meaningful participation. She knows the terrain and has insight into how to navigate the road to re-entry because she’s lived it.
Marcus Bullock, CEO of Flikshop, a mobile app company that delivers postcards to inmates from loved ones, says the idea came to him because it was “connection” with family and his mother in particular that gave him a thread of hope during imprisonment.
John Legend will star in the title role in NBC’s live staging of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” set for Easter Sunday.
“We’re all overjoyed to have world-class musical artist and producer John Legend starring as Jesus,” said Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment. “This score demands a singer with an amazing range and an actor with great depth, and there isn’t anyone better to bring this story to a new audience. His casting is also groundbreaking as the traditional image of Christ will be seen in a new way.”
Legend is a multi-hyphenate musician, songwriter, actor and producer who has become active in television as a thesp and producer. He’s a 10-time Grammy winner and an Oscar winner for his work on the song “Glory” from the 2014 drama “Selma.” He won a Tony Award earlier this year as a producer of “Jitney,” the August Wilson revival.
“I’m thrilled to join the cast of this production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,’” Legend said. “It’s such a powerful, meaningful musical and I’m humbled to be part of this performance. We’ve already formed an incredible team, and, as we finish casting, I’m certain we will put together some of the greatest talents around to do this work justice.”
NBC announced in May that its latest live musical will bow on April 1. Rocker Alice Cooper has been cast as King Herrod.
“Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” is based on the 1971 Broadway musical revolving around the last week of Jesus’ life.
According to Variety.com, Universal Pictures has optioned the rights to Jason Reynolds‘ best-selling young adult novel “Long Way Down,” which was also a National Book Award finalist. John Legend‘s Get Lifted Film Co. and Michael De Luca‘s Michael De Luca Productions have signed on to produce the film.
Reynolds’ book has an unusual premise – the whole story takes place in 60 seconds, as a young man struggles to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the person who killed his brother. Additionally, the book is written in free verse and is set in an elevator.
Although Legend is best known for his work as a singer and songwriter, but he has also racked up some major film credits, appearing in the likes of “La La Land” and “Soul Men,” and has produced the television series “Underground.” Legend also shared an Academy Award with rapper Common for best original song in 2015 for writing “Glory” from the film “Selma.”
Reynolds’ novels include “All American Boy” and “As Brave as You.” De Luca is the former president of New Line Cinema as well as an Oscar-nominated producer whose credits include the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, “The Social Network,” and “Moneyball.”
John Legend and Jesse Williams are working on a documentary that will look at the 1968 Black Power salute seen around the world. More than four decades before Colin Kaepernick took a knee in silent protest of police brutality and racial injustice, Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a statement with raised fists during the Summer Olympic games in Mexico City.
The documentary, With Drawn Arms, is executive produced by Williams and Legend, along with the Grammy and Oscar winning singer’s partners from his Get Lifted Film Co., Deadline reports. Smith is the focus of the documentary. The former sprinter and NFL wide received took home the gold medal at the 1968 games after completing the 200-meter dash, while Carlos earned the bronze medal. Both men were suspended for raising their fists during the medal ceremony, stripped of their credentials, and given 48 hours to leave Olympic Village.
With Drawn Arms is currently in production in Los Angeles and is co-directed by Glenn Kaino and Afshin Shahidi, who is the father of Black-ish actress Yara Shahidi, and worked as one of Prince’s personal photographers. “Tommie Smith is more than an iconic poster or risky act of defiance that inspires people the world over,” Williams said in a statement noting that Smith is a “living man, whose incredible journey is worthy of examination.” He added, “I couldn’t be more excited to join forces with this team of filmmakers, to share his reality and challenge our notions of heroism in the process.”
Single-night tickets are now on sale and are priced starting at $50 per person per night.
The concerts will feature more than 40 acts across five stages in the Superdome throughout the weekend on the festival’s renowned Mainstage and in the intimate Superlounges. Festival first-timers Diana Ross and Chance the Rapper will open and close the weekend concert series with headlining performances on Friday and Sunday night respectively – along with a special all-female Saturday night lineup, inspired by headliner Mary J. Blige’s forthcoming album Strength of A Woman.
Other well-known performers in this year’s line-up include John Legend, india.arie, Jill Scott, Chaka Khan and Solange.
Roy Wood Jr. from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” will serve as the Mainstage host for the weekend, with more surprise guest performances to be announced.
For more information about ticket sales and accommodations and for the latest news about the ESSENCE Festival®, visit www.essencefestival.com, join the festival community by following us on Twitter @essencefest #EssenceFest and become a fan of 2017 ESSENCE Festival® on Facebook.
John Legend, an executive producer on WGN America’s successful series “Underground,” is behind yet another project for the network based on a true experience in African American history.
The singer is executive producing a new series based on Black Wall Street, the nickname given to the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the early part of the 20th century, the area was one of the wealthiest and most affluent black communities in the United States.
However, jealous white citizens destroyed much of the neighborhood and killed upwards of 300 black people in a race riot that broke out in 1921.
According to TheWrap, the as-yet-untitled series is in the early stages of development, with Legend producing through his Get Lifted production banner along with Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius and “Southside With You” star Tika Sumpter.
To see a history of Black Wall Street, click below:
article by Michael Cooper and David Gelles via nytimes.com
Robert F. Smith, the private equity titan who was named the richest African-American man by Forbes last year after making a fortune in software, also has a quirky musical side.
He owns one of Elton John’s old pianos. He hired John Legend and Seal — and a youth orchestra — to perform at his wedding last summer on the Amalfi Coast. His youngest sons, Hendrix and Legend, are named after Jimi Hendrix and Mr. Legend. And he bought and refurbished a retreat in the Rocky Mountains that was beloved by jazz musicians, including Duke Ellington.
On Thursday, Mr. Smith’s intersecting worlds of money, philanthropy and music came together when he was named the chairman of Carnegie Hall, the nation’s most prestigious concert stage. He became the first African-American to hold the post at a time when diversity at leading cultural organizations lags — a recent survey of New York’s cultural institutions found that nearly 78 percent of their board members were white.
“Carnegie Hall is perfectly placed to champion not only artistic excellence, but also access and exposure to the best music in the world,” Mr. Smith said in a statement.
The election of Mr. Smith, 53, who played an old upright piano while growing up in Denver and was told that with enough practice he might make it to Carnegie one day, brings to an end a low moment at the hall. The billionaire Ronald O. Perelman served as its chairman for less than a year before stepping down last fall after he alienated the board by clashing with the hall’s executive and artistic director, Clive Gillinson.
After shunning the spotlight for years, Mr. Smith, who is based in Austin, Tex., where the private equity firm he founded, Vista Equity Partners, has its headquarters, has recently taken a more public role — starting a foundation, the Fund II Foundation; giving commencement addresses; and donating money. His alma mater, Cornell University, renamed its School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering for him earlier this year after he announced a $50 million gift.
Unlike Carnegie’s most recent chairmen, Mr. Perelman and Sanford I. Weill, the former Citigroup chairman, Mr. Smith does not come from the world of New York finance, and he has not been a major fixture on the city’s social scene — he is more known for flying in to attend events in the city and then flying out. But his work outside the city with investors and tech firms could provide entree to new potential donors in the coming years.
CHICAGO — When Jussie Smollett and Jurnee Smollett-Bell were growing up, bouncing with their parents and four siblings between New York and Los Angeles, as the kids pursued careers in modeling, acting and music, their downtime was just another chance for performance and togetherness.
“Creating was something that we just were expected to do,” Mr. Smollett said, in a joint interview with his sister here, where he tapes the Fox series “Empire.” Seated next to him in a downtown restaurant, she was nodding in agreement. “And I don’t remember a time not wanting to do that.”
The members of the Smollett clan have made good on their childhood promise. Mr. Smollett, 32, is a singer and a breakout star of the hit drama “Empire,” in which he plays Jamal, the most talented member of the Lyon hip-hop dynasty.
Ms. Smollett-Bell, 29, who made her mark as an actress by the age of 10, with the 1997 film “Eve’s Bayou,” is one of the leads in “Underground,” a new WGN America show about a group of slaves who try to escape from their Georgia plantation; her brother guest-stars.
Though it’s their first project together in 20 years, it’s clear that the more creative freedom they have, the more their tastes will converge.
The Smolletts have also been outspoken politically and, since their school years, devoted to causes like H.I.V./AIDS prevention and ending apartheid. They were raised in the orbit of the Black Panthers and, lately, have lent their voices to the Black Lives Matter movement. Their trajectory, from child stars to successful adults, is born of their family and its history of activism.
“Their sense of justice is very strong, and it permeates everything that they do,” said Alfre Woodard, who has known Jussie and Jurnee since they were children; they worked with her at the nonprofit Artists for a New South Africa. “They’re like a model sibling unit. They look out for each other, all the time. And they all reach across and say, ‘O.K., I got my foot in this door; here, grab my hand, we’re going in together.’”
Raised on a diet of classic films (they’ll gladly quote the 1945 version of “Mildred Pierce”), Jussie and Jurnee still count their mother, Janet Smollett, as their only acting coach. An African-American from New Orleans, Ms. Smollett met their father, Joel Smollett Sr., a Russian-Polish Jew, in the Bay Area, where they campaigned for civil rights. “My mom was in the movement with Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, and one of her first mentors was Julian Bond,” Mr. Smollett said of the Black Panther founders and the civil rights leader. “To this day, Angela Davis is one of her dearest friends. We’ve spent Mother’s Day with Angela.”
The 47th NAACP Image Awards ceremony was held tonight at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and aired on TV One (9-11 p.m. ET live/PT tape-delayed). The two-hour live special was hosted by Anthony Anderson, and the one-hour live pre-show from the red carpet was hosted by Terrence Jenkins and Tracey Edmonds.
NAACP Chairwoman Rosyln Brock presented the NAACP Chairman’s Award to Brittany “Bree” Newsome, who famously climbed up and took down the Confederate flag in Columbia, South Carolina; Justice League NYC; Concerned Student 1950 Collective at the University of Missouri, Columbia; The University of Mississippi NAACP College Chapter; Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III; Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley; Rev. Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant, and Jussie Smollett.
NAACP President Cornell William Brooks presented the NAACP President’s Award to musician and activist John Legend.
Some of the biggest names in film, television and music appeared including Viola Davis, Gabrielle Union, Gina Rodriguez, Kerry Washington, Morris Chestnut, Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keegan-Michael Key, O’Shea Jackson Jr.,Bell, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Tracee Ellis Ross, Loretta Devine, Shonda Rhimes, Omari Hardwick, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Sanaa Lathan, RonReaco Lee, Keke Palmer, Michael Ealy, Tom Joyner, LeToya Luckett, Ken Jeong, F. Gary Gray and more. Also in attendance were cast members from “Empire” – Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Gray, Grace Gealy, TraiByers, Serayah, Gabourey Sidibe, Ta’Rhonda Jones, Kaitlin Doubleday, Lee Daniels, Danny Strong and more.
The NAACP Image Awards production team included Executive Producers Reginald Hudlin and Phil Gurin. Check out the full list of winners for the 47th NAACP Image Awards below:
Outstanding Comedy Series
Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series
Anthony Anderson – “black-ish” (ABC)
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series
Tracee Ellis Ross – “black-ish” (ABC)
Outstanding Drama Series
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
Terrence Howard – “Empire” (FOX)
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
Taraji P. Henson – “Empire” (FOX)
Outstanding Motion Picture
“Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
Michael B. Jordan – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)