When civil rights icon Representative John Lewis died on July 17 at age 80, tributes rolled in from politicians, activists, actors, musicians, and more. President Barack Obama wrote, “He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.” Personal and intimate remembrances also rolled in from Ava DuVernay, who tweeted, “What warmth and wisdom he leaves behind for us”; Viola Davis, who wrote, “Thank you for your service, for your commitment to change and your courage”; and Ice Cube, who said wrote, “I’ve always admired your courage.”
It was all very fitting for a man who’d devoted his life to fight for civil rights for all, harkening back to his organizing and protesting efforts in the mid-century American South, where he helped lead the March 7, 1965 march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery to demand voting rights. That kind of spirit can’t die: “[Young people] must continue to dream and never, ever give up on trying to fulfill or make their dream become a living reality,” he told MTV News in 2015.
That’s exactly the spirit celebrities like John Legend paid tribute to during an hourlong special titled John Lewis: Celebrating a Hero, which aired Tuesday night (August 4) on CBS and across ViacomCBS platforms. Legend called Lewis “a warrior for justice” on Twitter after his passing and wrote, “Thank you for loving us so much that you devoted and risked your life to bring us closer to freedom.”
For the Celebrating a Hero special, Legend performed the Oscar-winning song “Glory” alongside his co-collaborator Common viewed through important archive footage, and via a virtual performance that took place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Both utilized a green screen to perform the stirring ode they penned for the 2014 film Selma, as directed by DuVernay.
Billy Porter was accompanied by Jon Batiste and a full band as he covered Sam Cooke’s 1964 immortal soul classic “A Change is Gonna Come.” He tore up the stage as he summoned the force necessary to invoke the beautiful, urging words of the staple, with Batiste in the background smashing things, melodically speaking, on the guitar.
The special also featured Yolanda Adams, Jon Batiste, Common, Jennifer Hudson, Trevor Noah, and more paying tribute to Lewis’s life and work. Check out some of the highlights above.
- John Legend