At the 2022 Grammy Awards on Sunday (April 3), John Legend and a number of Ukranian artists took to the stage to pay tribute to the lives lost in Ukraine, while calling on the world to continue sending support to those who are still living through the war.
Introducing the stirring performance, Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged those in the audience — both in Las Vegas and at home — to continue offering support in whatever way they could to his homeland. “The war — what is more opposite to music? The silence of ruined cities and killed people,” he said in his impassioned speech. “We defend our freedom. To live. To love. To sound. On our land, we are fighting Russia, which brings horrible silence with its bombs — the dead silence. Fill the silence with your music.”
Legend then took to the stage, bathed in white light and seated at a grand piano to perform his new song “Free.” Sampling pieces of the spiritual “Go Down Moses,” the moving ballad saw the singer-songwriter urging for an end to the fighting in Europe. “Lay down soldiers/ Lay down those weapons/ Let peace rush in,” he sang. “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.”
As Legend continued, he was joined on stage by two Ukrainian artists. The first was Denver-based musician Siuzanna Iglidan, originally from Odessa, Ukraine, who appeared backing up the star while playing the bandura, a traditional Ukrainian folk instrument. The pair were then joined by Mika Newton, a Ukrainian singer who sang a verse in Ukrainian.
Finally, they were joined by Lyuba Yakimchuk — a Ukrainian poet who fled Ukraine “just days ago,” according to the broadcast — who offered a prayer-like stanza to close the performance. “Forgive us our destroyed cities, even though we do not forgive for them our enemies,” she said. “Shield and protect my husband, my parents, my child and my motherland.”
While Legend was not nominated for any awards at Sunday’s ceremony, he was honored earlier in the week with the first inaugural global impact award by the Recording Academy’s Black Music Collective.