After an inspiring call to conscience from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, John Legend owned the 2022 Grammy Awards stage on Sunday night (April 3) for a soul-stirring performance of his new song, “Free.” It was fitting that he was slowly joined by a series of Ukrainian artists, including Odessa, Ukraine-born Siuzanna Iglidan, who backed him up on the bandura, a traditional Ukrainian folk instrument, and then Ukrainian singer Mika Newton.

The rousing performance of the ballad that interpolated bits of the spiritual “Go Down Moses” came home with a reading from a Ukrainian poet who just fled her home country days earlier, Lyuba Yakimuchuk. Early Monday morning (April 4), Legend posted a series of tweets explaining the emotional origin story of his plea for peace and tribute to the human spirit.

“‘FREE’ was inspired by the spirituals and hymns of my enslaved and oppressed African-American ancestors, who were inspired by the Old Testament story of Moses leading his people to liberation from slavery,” Legend explained. The singer went on to call the ballad a “prayer… for peace throughout the world. A prayer for all the dispossessed and dislocated. The refugees of every nationality, religion and skin color, longing for a safe place to live and flourish. Those who are left aside and forgotten.”

“Lay down soldiers/ Lay down those weapons/ Let peace rush in,” Legend sang at the Grammys. “Let it wash through the valley, soar through the mountains/ Fall in the deepest blue sea/ Let it fly ‘cross the sky in a banner so high/ That even the rockets will see.”

A month and a half into Russian president Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war on Ukraine, the world learned more about the brutality of the assault over the weekend when images of murdered civilians piled in mass graves were revealed in Bucha, northwest of the capital of Kyiv after the retreat of Putin’s troops. The horrific scenes inspired calls for a war crimes investigation of Putin, whose attack on the democratic former Soviet satellite nation has resulted in more than 3,400 civilian casualties to date, including 1,417 killed and 2,038 injured.

Legend continued, saying “FREE” was also written as a tribute to those who are “unjustly languishing in our jails and prisons. Those suffering from what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called the three greatest evils: poverty, militarism and racism… Those who are boldly speaking out against these evils, despite the threats to their lives or livelihoods.”

He then specifically tagged the inspiration to the horrors of watching Putin’s aggression, saying he penned it a week into the conflict. “It can be paralyzing to see war being waged by big nation-states with expensive weapons,” he wrote. “I wrote FREE after a week of seeing the horrific images of the senseless, brutal invasion of Ukraine by a regime with no moral justification — no right to kill, dominate and subjugate the Ukrainian people, no right to silence the will of the people in a democratic nation.

Fully aware that a song can’t stop a war alone, Legend said he was spurred to write “FREE” as his prayer, his contribution to the “chorus of voices calling for peace and freedom for all people. I hope each of us can find our own way to contribute to this chorus. May we drown out the voices and forces of hate, bigotry and authoritarianism. May we make our world truly FREE.”

Check out Legend’s tweets below.

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