In 2008, soul crooner John Legend joined Philadelphia-based soul revivalists The Roots to record a collection of songs that addressed America’s current political climate. The result is Wake Up!
Covering politically-minded soul protest classics from the 1960s and 70s, The Roots have created an album with plenty of energy. Their versatility allows them to stand out amongst a crowd without overly polished or decorous vocals or taking too seriously.
Hard Times by Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield grew up immersed in Chicago’s Soul/R&B scene. His grandmother’s Traveling Soul Spiritualists Church, gospel music and electric blues music had all shaped his sense of rhythm and groove. At seven years old, Mayfield discovered guitar playing – which transformed everything. From then on he began creating and recording his own music.
By the late 1960s, Mayfield had achieved fame as both composer and singer with The Impressions, his backing group that he founded in 1958. Their first single “Gypsy Woman” (Top 20 Pop) earned them a record deal with ABC Paramount Records of New York.
The Impressions would become the first group in history to achieve one million selling single. They would go on to become one of the most iconic vocal groups in American music history.
Mayfield’s career provided hope and pride to an entire generation, inspiring black people to fight for their rights in a segregated society. He was an icon in the Black Pride movement alongside James Brown and Sly Stone.
Though Mayfield passed away in 1999, his legacy lives on through the voices of many musicians who were inspired by him. In 2003, he was posthumously inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
With his songs and speeches, he left an impression on the civil rights movement. He was often compared to Martin Luther King Jr. for his inspiring lyrics during the 1960s and 1970s.
Even after his tragic passing, Curtis Mayfield left behind a legacy of socially aware music that still resonates today. Songs like Hard Times speak to the struggles faced by black Americans living in poverty and striving to find an escape.
Hang On In There by Mike James Kirkland
Mike James Kirkland may be well known to fans of classic R&B.
With its captivating melody backed by an atmospheric band, this song should definitely make any R&B fan’s collection.
John Legend and The Roots have covered this track in the studio, and you can listen to it here on NPR. It’s an excellent song that offers a refreshing change from all the usual soul offerings on radio stations.
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Wholly Holy by Marvin Gaye
John Legend was moved by the historic Presidential election campaign of 2016, inspiring him to create the soulful album Wake Up! This CD brings together music from the 1960s and 70s that is inspired by themes of awareness, engagement and consciousness. The result is an inspiring new offering that will enlighten listeners and urge them to “Wake Up!”
In 2008, The Roots and Legend joined forces to search for songs that could capture the historic political climate created by Barack Obama’s election. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ iconic “Wake Up Everybody” inspired them in finding songs that symbolized change, hope, and activism – ultimately finding success!
They discovered several stirring soul songs, such as Marvin Gaye’s “Wholly Holy” and Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Later, the duo sought out protest music from the 1960s and ’70s.
It can be an arduous feat for any singer to sing a song with such spiritual significance, especially one as beloved as “Wholly Holy.” Yet Legend does it with grace and precision, giving the song its powerful emotional impact. He seems perfectly at home in Gaye’s shoes with his soulful tenor voice sounding almost identical to that of the late great. His performance leaves listeners feeling moved to tears at his performance.
Little Ghetto Boy by Donny Hathaway
Legend joined forces with The Roots Hard Times to create a cover album of some iconic soul and funk songs from the 70s. These tracks are an eclectic blend of gospel, soul and rock with touches of hip-hop.
Donny Hathaway revolutionized soul music with his powerful vocals and unique performance style. Additionally, his dual talents of singing and playing piano earned him widespread admiration from audiences everywhere – making him a truly beloved artist.
Hathaway’s career was short lived, but he left behind an unforgettable legacy that endures to this day. He is considered a legendary figure within the music industry and has been celebrated by numerous musicians.
His anthem “Little Ghetto Boy” was a hit song from the 1970s that spread an uplifting message. One of its most renowned versions is by John Legend.
Their collaborative album Wake Up is out on September 21st and features protest songs and conscious soul music to inspire.
Compared To What by Roberta Flack
Roberta Flack’s music has never been easy to pin down; she’s been called “the best singer of her generation” and an “American treasure.” In the PBS documentary “American Masters: Roberta Flack,” she reveals that her songs aren’t just about love but also a response to social injustice.
She has a way of making audiences sit up straight in their seats, drawing them in.
“Compared To What,” written by veteran soul singer Eugene McDaniels for Flack’s 1969 debut album, was the opening song from the album.
Her next album marked her comeback and brought her success back into focus.
Her career was a wild ride, but she managed to stay focused and keep her head above water. She even tried acting, though it didn’t pan out. Additionally, she became an animal rights activist by adopting nine dogs and 13 cats.
It is an incredible tribute to a remarkable artist who has endured much and still managed to stay strong. It serves as a reminder that there are people out there who want to make change happen and it proves possible.