Common to give keynote, perform at Black History Month show

02/06/2014 12:00 AM

02/05/2014 3:28 PM

Grammy Award-winning artist Common will lecture and perform as part of the University of the Pacific’s Black History Month celebration.

The hip-hop performer and actor, who stars on the AMC Western series “Hell on Wheels,” will give the keynote address for the community event Saturday at Stockton’s Bob Hope Theatre.

“He can speak to the people in the area and encourage them on how to become better individuals and give back to the community,” said Randall Ogans, staff co-chair of the university’s Black History Month planning committee. “His music is very influential. He is one of the top lyricists at this time and a hip-hop legend. He provides good entertainment but also a good amount of history. He can inspire people to become better individuals.”

Common, whose birth name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., will focus his lecture on youth empowerment, citizen leadership and his nonprofit organization, the Common Ground Foundation.

Common has released 10 albums, which have earned two Grammys, and is known as a lyricist and poet. He made his major-label debut in 1992 with “Like Water for Chocolate.” In 2004, Common appeared on Kanye West’s debut album, “The College Dropout,” and signed with West’s then newly founded label GOOD Music.

Last month, the Chicago native announced his next album, “Nobody’s Smiling,” will be released in the spring.

“I gotta say, 2014 is going to be one of my greatest times in music. I am really excited about the project I am working on,” he told Revolt TV recently. “ ‘Nobody’s Smiling’ was a thought that came on because of all of the violence going on in Chicago ... and around the world and in inner cities all over America.

“We were talking about the conditions that are happening and said, ‘Nobody’s smiling.’ It is really a call to action.”

Common also has acted in a number of feature films, including “American Gangster” with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, “Date Night” with Tina Fey and Steve Carell, “Wanted” with Angelina Jolie, and more. Since 2011, he has appeared on “Hell on Wheels,” which chronicles the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States in 1865. Common is one of the series’ leads, a newly emancipated slave named Elam Ferguson. The series returns for its fourth season this summer.

In 2007, he launched the Common Ground Foundation. The nonprofit group uses programs, camps, mentorships and more to work with underprivileged youth and help develop leadership, educational and creative skills. He has written three children’s books: “The Mirror and Me,” “I Like You But I Love Me” and “M.E. (Mixed Emotions).” In 2011, he released his memoir, “One Day It’ll All Make Sense.”

Ogans said Common’s status as an entertainer and as a philanthropist had him on the university’s short list to headline this year’s Black History Month events. In years past, the university has brought in Kareem Abdul Jabbar, India.Arie, Tavis Smiley and Soledad O’Brien, among others.

“He was at the top of a list of people who epitomize everything we’re trying to get across during Black History Month,” Ogans said. “People seem really excited about the show.”

Common’s appearance will be preceded by performances by the the student jazz group The Original Jambassadors, as well as the community With Our Words Youth Poetry Collective.

The university’s Black History Month program will continue throughout the month and culminate with Gospelfest 2014, which will be headlined by recent Grammy-winning gospel artist Tye Tribbett on Feb. 28 at Warren Atherton Auditorium, 5151 Pacific Ave.

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