John Legend Talks Lending Songs for Education Reform

'We're starting to see great experiments that are working,' says the singer, who, with the Roots, contributes two tracks to the soundtrack for 'Waiting for Superman,' a new documentary on schools

September 21, 2010 12:47 PM ET

Today John Legend and the Roots release Wake Up, a covers album focused on political songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Two of those tracks — first single “Wake Up Everybody,” featuring Common and Melanie Fiona (first recorded in 1975 by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes) and the album’s one original, a ballad called “Shine” — will be used to advance an actual political cause: Education reform. Both will appear in the soundtrack to Waiting for Superman, the new documentary from An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim.

Video: The Roots and John Legend on Their Soul LP 'Wake Up'

“I think [the public education system] needs to be better,” Legend tells Rolling Stone. “We’re starting to see, in various places, great experiments that are working when it comes to providing a really first-class education to kids that have traditionally been overlooked.” Waiting For Superman looks at the issue through the interlocking stories of students, their families, educators and reformers.

Read the Wake Up album review

Legend was home schooled in Ohio until he was 12. Today, he works with Harlem Village Academies in New York, an education-reform group founded in 2001. “In the film, they talk about Harlem Children’s Zone, which is another really successful group of charter schools,” says Legend. “So you’re seeing that these inner-city kids, who people had given up on before, are really doing well under the right kind of environment, with teachers that really care and are pushing them to the limit. Principals are really holding their teachers accountable and expecting the best from them.”

Further coverage of the Roots, John Legend collaboration

Legend’s hope is that these experiments will spur large-scale change. “These schools are achieving results that people didn’t think were possible before,” he says. “So when you see that’s possible, you don’t want just a select few kids to get that exposure and get that environment. You want as many kids as possible to get that, so that’s what we’re all about when it comes to reforming education in America.” Waiting for Superman opens in select theaters on Friday.

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