Singer Raphael Saadiq has experienced a lot of tragedy in his life. Born in Oakland, California, and one of 14 children, he lost several of his siblings at a young age to violence.
But rather than focus his music on negativity and his traumatic experiences, he instead uses it boost other people up.
The Grammy-winning artist brought his empowering music to the inaugural Global Citizen in London on Dec. 13. Held at the iconic Royal Albert Hall, and hosted by John Legend, the night celebrated the extraordinary people driving change in their communities and around the world to end extreme poverty.
The show also featured incredible performances from Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, Sting, and Stormzy, alongside special guests Chris Martin, H.E.R., and Jorja Smith.
John Legend also hosted the show, with help from presenters Connie Britton, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jason Derulo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dakota Johnson, Leona Lewis, Himesh Patel, and Kal Penn.
The Global Citizen Prize ceremony is being broadcast all around the world this month, so everyone can join in the celebrations and help us honor the work of some of the world’s leading activists. You can find out how and where to tune in and watch wherever you are, here.
Saadiq was a member of the hit ‘90s soul and R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné! and has produced songs for top artists such as the late Whitney Houston, Solange Knowles, Mary J. Blige, and D’Angelo. He toured with the legendary musician Prince and played the bass on Elton John’s record The Diving Board.
The multitalented artist released his first album in eight years, Jimmy Lee, in Aug. 2019. Jimmy Lee, named after Saadiq’s older brother who died of a heroin overdose after contracting HIV, explores addiction, mass incarceration, and trauma.
"I lost three brothers to some type of addiction or drug-related situations," Saadiq told ABC Radio. "But the record is not really a downer. It's sort of uplifting people that might have ran into some type of drug addiction."
Saadiq is using his platform to break the stigma around addiction and show love and support to people who have not been able to talk openly about their struggles. Countries and states with higher levels of income inequality tend to have worse mental health and addiction problems and don’t generally have the resources to seek treatment.
Jimmy Lee also draws attention to the mass incarceration system in the US in the gospel-inspired protest song “Rikers Island”.
“You gotta unleash yourself / Everybody, everybody,” the song begins. Saadiq then points to the disproportionate number of black people incarcerated at the Rikers Island correctional facility in New York City. “Why must it be? (I said that there's too many),” he sings. “Set 'em free (You know that there's too many).”
Rikers Island is one of the world’s largest correctional institutions and houses approximately 20,000 inmates and guards, and is infamous for neglect, inhumane conditions, and violence. Eighty-six percent of the people on Rikers Island are people of color, and 76% of the people incarcerated there haven’t been found guilty of anything.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would shut down Rikers Island at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, after nearly 10,000 Global Citizens demanded an end to cash bail in the state. Lawmakers then approved a plan in October to close the correctional facility by 2026.
I’m helping @GlblCtzn recognize the outstanding work of Global Citizens around the world at this year’s #GCPrize2019 at the Royal Albert Hall in London! Tune in to see the world premiere on Dec. 20. https://t.co/4lpAA4E8hN ⭕#PowerTheMovement#ThisWorldIsDrunk#JimmyLeepic.twitter.com/vpmvtSPgAn— Raphael Saadiq (@RaphaelSaadiq) November 20, 2019
Throughout his career, Saadiq has used his voice to explore important humanitarian issues and support organizations working to address them. He’s performed at events benefiting Autism Speaks, the American Foundation for Aids Research, and contributed to a Bob Dylan cover album honoring Amnesty International.
You can tune in to see Raphael Saadiq’s Global Citizen Prize performance for yourself, as well as performances from the amazing lineup; to see the Prize winners announced; and to join with us to help raise our voices for an end to extreme poverty. Find out how and when to tune in and watch, wherever in the world you are, here.
Proud partners of the Global Citizen Prize include Comcast NBCUniversal, MSNBC, Cisco, Johnson & Johnson, Citi, Live Nation, Reckitt Benckiser (RB), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Motsepe Foundation.