The song “Preach” was written by Greg Kurstin and Sarah Aarons and is sung by John Legend.  Legend put the song out as a single in 2019, which was an eventful time in both the United States and the world. It had been about a year since the Parkland school shooting, and the country’s gun laws had barely changed or been reviewed enough.  Legend has said on numerous occasions that this song, inspired by the survivors of the Parkland shooting, is a direct aim at American politicians who do not tackle America’s gun laws aggressively enough.

Legend  is no stranger to political songs, and Preach is just one of a few songs that Legend has put out. In 2015, Legend started the campaign #FREEAMERICA to start conversation about America’s criminal justice system. The music video for the song called on Youtube viewers to donate to the campaign and become more aware of the cause. 


Legend’s placement in the genre of rhythm and blues (R&B) as well as soul music makes him an ideal artist for highly emotional (and political) songs. The genre of R&B quite literally has roots in the pain and suffering (of the African-American experience, specifically) and has a history of accurately expressing genuine pain, anguish, and joy alike. The structure of Preach within this genre opens up the floor for wider interpretation and discussion (Rosenthal & Flacks 2011, p.50). Preach is certainly also considered political music, as defined by Rosenthal and Flacks, since it engenders a “sociological imagination” – Preach directly addresses the social roots of individual events in America (the Parkland shooting, for example) that cause catastrophic damage on a bigger level (Rosenthal & Flacks 2011, p. 20).  Preach goes further, however, and expresses the problems with the politics and media behind these social issues as well.

Legend, who is a father of two young children, has frequently expressed his frustration with the American government over various issues, but none seemed to hit as close to home for Legend as the Parkland events that inspired Preach. Sending children to school should not turn into a parent’s worst nightmare; school should be a safe place for children to learn and grow. This should be common knowledge, but clearly it is not and laws protecting school children need to be stricter and/or changed. Legend sings early in the song that he must “turn off my phone just to get out of bed” so that he does not have to face the horridness of the news every morning. When he gets home at night, however, he still sings that “history’s repeating” and terrible things continue to happen around him. Nevertheless, Legend quickly responds to his own thoughts by singing  “heaven knows I’m not helpless” – Legend is acknowledging his own privilege and power to encourage change.  He sings this phrase repeatedly throughout the song, likely alluding to the fact that even if we are frustrated and upset at the world, we must not throw up our hands in surrender and lose hope.  After all, we “can’t just preach,” we must respond in action as well.  It seems easy to lose hope and give up, though, when every time one turns on the news one sees horrifying stories and negative news. Legend goes as far as describing the news as “hurting my chest.” This is a common theme among many people in today’s world, especially with the inundation of news media and violent events happening so often.

Although they are compelling, the lyrics are not the carrying force of the song, however.  It is truly the musical composition of Preach that reflects the melancholy, turmoil and chaos that Legend sings about.  The song is based on minor-key organ chords, and this acts as a perfect foundation for Legend’s vocal overlay.   His vocals from the moment the song starts are somewhat pleading yet sad at the same time. Legend’s voice has a certain tone that bleeds emotion, and his wide range allows him to reach for notes at the bridge (around 2:50) that captures the listener’s mind and heart alike.  All in all, Preach is both a musical masterpiece and political poetry; one cannot help but stop and listen to what John Legend has to sing.