The singer has been a vocal supporter of the democratic presidential candidate.
The line outside the Charleston Music Hall for John Legend’s Wednesday night (Feb. 26) appearance with Sen. Elizabeth Warren snaked around the block, looping through an alley back around Hutson Street and spilling over onto King. Plenty of supporters were left out in the rain. “The bad news is, there’s no more room inside,” democratic presidential candidate Warren said, addressing the overflow crowd outside the venue. “The good news is, there’s no more room inside. Looks like to me that Charleston is ready for some big, structural change.” Legend smiled beside Warren as she spoke—not so long ago, he wasn’t sure he’d be in that auditorium either.
“At the beginning of the campaign, I knew there were going to be about 67 candidates in the democratic primary,” he told South Carolina voters on Wednesday night. “My intention was to just stay out of it. I wasn’t going to endorse anybody for the primary.”
That changed, he said, the more he heard from Sen. Warren and her campaign. “Elizabeth Warren fundamentally believes that our democracy is in danger. That the government has become too corrupt… and the reason she ran for president was to get this democracy back to its rightful owners,” the politically active singer said. “Unlike any of the other candidates, her personal, professional, and political experience has been devoted to the most critical issue of our time: the pursuit of equal opportunity for all in the United States.”
Legend, who announced his endorsement of Warren in October, began his South Carolina charge for the Massachusetts senator in the afternoon at South Carolina State, a historically black university in Orangeburg, before heading to downtown Charleston for a Get Out the Vote rally. The packed-out evening event tapped local hip-hop artist Benny Star — a Pineville, South Carolina, native — to introduce Legend, and he was effusive about the Grammy-winning singer’s outspokenness. “I come in a long line of artists who have never been afraid to leverage their platform to bring about social change — Paul Robeson, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, James Baldwin,” said Starr, priming the crowd for Legend’s appearance. “And there’s another artist who I stand in a long line with … An artist that’s not afraid to stand up for justice.”
Legend went on to deliver a 15-minute endorsement, outlining why he’s standing up now, citing issues such as criminal justice reform, housing discrimination, healthcare costs, government corruption, and disparity in educational opportunity as major reasons he came out in support of Warren. “She’s not afraid of the fight. She’s not afraid to take on the challenge. She has a plan to win,” he said. “Elizabeth Warren believes in this country. She believes in its people. She believes in democracy, that if we come together and we listen to one another, if we love one another and value each other’s lives, we can build a more perfect union.”
Many lines drew contrast with Warren’s potential predecessor in the White House. “Now, I know the bar is very low right now,” Legend said in an allusion to Pres. Trump, drawing applause. “We currently have a president who embarrasses this great nation on a daily basis with his incompetence, his lack of preparedness, his unabashed ignorance, and his lack of curiosity. He’s a hot mess — bless his heart, as y’all would say.”
His lighthearted riff on the Southern-ism was well-received, but Legend got serious about the state’s importance in the national political landscape as he closed his speech. “I vote in California. I was born and raised in Ohio. I’ve never lived in South Carolina,” he said. “But I flew all the way across the country just to do this today, because everybody’s watching South Carolina… You have the power to send a message that will resound across the nation.”
He then handed the spotlight over to Warren, who spoke for about a half-hour about what her campaign wanted to accomplish for South Carolinians. She ended her remarks by telling attendees that in lieu of her trademark “selfie line,” Legend would return to the stage to perform. “You can cheer,” she joked. “I won’t be offended.”
He opened with “Redemption Song,” a Bob Marley cover he performed at the 2016 TED conference as a part of his advocacy for criminal justice reform. The lyrics — “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?” — were a potent reminder of the issues he’d so passionately articulated just minutes before, and the crowd responded in kind with reverence. Legend then launched into “Ordinary People,” a song the crowd clearly recognized, and closed the event with “All of Me,” smiling as the audience sang along with vigor.
The South Carolina primary will take place on Saturday (Feb. 29).