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Legend returns for ‘important center of Springfield’

John Legend took the stage Sunday afternoon to perform during a ceremony officially opening the John Legend Theater at the Springfield Center of Innovation: The Dome.

Legend performed “All of Me,” “Love Me Now” and “Save Room For My Love” among his selections at a piano inside the new theater. The performance came after a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was attended by an estimated 1,000 people.

“I have so many fond memories of growing up here,” Legend, a Springfield North High School graduate and Oscar and 10-time Grammy winner, told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“I have so many fond memories of what the arts and creativity meant to me.”

>>> RELATED: John Legend: Performing in Springfield key to his success

Legend said he recalled singing in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in ninth grade and “Big River” with the Springfield Arts Council as part of his arts education.

“There’s nothing like having to put the show together and perform on stage for an audience,” he said.

The Dome is more than 100 years old. It was first Springfield High School, then South High School, which closed in 2008 after the school district built a new combined high school. The building, with the help of Legend, won an $11.3 million grant to renovate part of the building. However, it wasn’t enough to complete the renovation of the auditorium.

Legend stepped up along with other donors like Speedway, Security National Bank and the Turner and Springfield foundations this year and donated the money to get the project completed.

Springfield City School District Spokesperson Kim Fish spearheaded The Dome project, according to Legend and School Board President Ed Leventhal. She said it took 10 years to finally complete.

“It’s done, it has its own life,” Fish said of the theater. “We’ve built a great theater and we have been able to show the community what it is. It is such an exciting feeling.”

“It’s one of the best things to happen to Springfield in a decade,” said Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland at Sunday’s ceremony.

Students from multiple districts, including Springfield City, will have the opportunity to utilize the theater and learn how to professionally run a production.

Many of those students taking park in the YOUmedia portion of The Dome had an opportunity to meet with Legend before he addressed the large crowd anxious to see him.

Lorence McNeal, A YOUmedia student at the Springfield Center of Innovation: The Dome with aspirations of going into the music industry, said Legend gave him words of encouragement.

“We basically talked about music for a little bit,” McNeal said. “We talked about working hard and making sure everything you put out, you’ve put all of your effort into it.”

McNeal and other students sat behind Legend on stage while he performed.

>>> PREVIOUSLY: Tickets go fast as fans line up for John Legend’s Springfield show

Another aspiring young vocalist and Springfield student Courtney Neal was waiting outside to see Legend cut the ribbon and open the new theater Sunday afternoon.

“My dad has always been a big fan of him so I grew up with his music,” Neal said. “I actually auditioned for “The Voice” awhile back, and singing has always been a part of me, so seeing him come from Springfield and having his own theater (and seeing him professionally), it is awesome.”

Her mother, Cara Neal, also said Legend’s contributions are a great thing for the city.

“There is a lot of negativity focused around Springfield, we don’t get to really pay attention to the positives, and John Legend coming back here is definitely a positive,” Cara Neal said.

Carlyn Herny graduated from South in 1973 and said her old high school has gone through multiple renovations in that time. She said she feels fortunate to have someone like John Legend come from the community who can help keep a historic building up-to-date.

Legend said The Dome has always been a special place in the community.

“I remember performing here before it was re-modeled many, many years ago,” Legend said. “I performed here in plays and talent shows, and I always looked at this building as such an important center of Springfield because it is one of the more striking buildings in town and has so much history to it. … It was going to be going to waste, it seems like such a shame and I am glad the school district and city came together.”

Springfield City School District put in about $2 million for the project, and Legend raised $500,000. He did so by holding a raffle and agreeing to come sing for the person who won.

Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill said Sunday was a turning point for students in the city. He said the school board and Legend working together to invest in the children of the community will go a long way to revitalize the area.

“For John to come back to his hometown for the dedication, words cannot describe how proud we are of John and what he means to this community,” Hill said.

Legend told the News-Sun in an exclusive interview that performing in Springfield as a child played a large role in his professional success. He said during the ceremony that the theater is a way to give back.

“I wouldn’t be here without Springfield,” Legend said. “I want to extend the same opportunities to our young people.”

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