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He reserves that title for our enslaved African-American ancestors who endured unfathomable dehumanization, racism and cruelty. This is what the new WGN series Underground will explore as well as the handful of heroic men and women who valiantly fought to escape. Legend, an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the drama’s executive producers.

In advance of the March debut of Underground, Legend, 37, and his producing partner Mike Jackson sat down with ESSENCE to talk about the 10-episode series, how its Wednesday night airing will be helped and not hurt by Empire, his Oscar win and even actor Chris Pine’s tear.

Underground stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge and Christopher Meloni with Jussie Smollett making a guest appearance.

What made you want to be a part of this project?

We have a production company called Get Lifted Film Company and our whole mission is to tell interesting stories; stories that we personally connect with and that we can help get out to the people and hopefully, they’ll connect with as well. This is the kind of stuff I studied in college and I knew about this a lot, but I didn’t ever see it on television in this way. When (executive producers) Joe (Pokaski) and Misha (Green) reached out, I was so excited by the idea that this show could even exist, and that we could do something now that could make a story from 150 years ago feel so relevant and urgent and full of action and intrigue and suspense.

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CELEBRITY CORNER: John Legend Is About That Life, Says Activism ‘Comes With The Job’  was originally published on

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