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Pop!Tech: Catching up with Bill Shannon and John Legend

Funny thing about Pop!Tech. It draws such a Fast Company crowd that it was like a reunion with people I’ve written about over the years. A couple of colorful examples:

billpic.jpg

Funny thing about Pop!Tech. It draws such a Fast Company crowd that it was like a reunion with people I’ve written about over the years. A couple of colorful examples:

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I interviewed Bill Shannon, aka the CrutchMaster, several years ago, because he’s such an unusual and agile innovator. Born with Perthese’s Disease, a degenerative hip condition, Shannon is unable to put much weight on his legs without severe pain. He became a stunning dancer and performance artist anyway. He reinvented his crutches first. They’re custom-made, from titanium tubes and rounded rubber ends that allow him to spin and move freely, like no one I’ve seen.

Over lunch in Camden, Shannon described how he continues to push the boundaries of performance. Last spring he took to the streets of Chicago for a piece he called Traffic. As he skateboarded through downtown using his crutches like ski poles, the audience followed him in a bus, watching monitors shot from the bus and a tiny camera on his shirt. He wore a mic so they could listen to his running commentary.

After the Pop!Tech gala dinner on Saturday, Shannon performed in a parking lot for the crowd, which parted into two lines as if they were watching a drag race. This photo is my best attempt to capture Shannon’s crazy kinetics – part break-dancing, part gymnastics – in action.

John Legend, who appeared on our February cover, performed as well.

Sorry, folks, I didn’t tape it. You’ll have to take my word for it that he brought the house down in the Camden Opera House with a Nina Simone-inspired cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and two of his own songs, “Show Me” and “Ordinary People.”

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Legend also shared the story of how he came to launch the Show Me Campaign to raise awareness about extreme poverty, particularly in Africa. After reading The End of Poverty by Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs, Legend met with Sachs and eventually traveled to Ghana to see firsthand what Sach’s Millennium Project is doing to end poverty village by village.

Recently, Legend traveled to Tanzania and filmed a music video, a nifty way to expose his fans to a different way of life, one they certainly don’t find at the local mall. He’s a Grammy-winning musician, but also a former consultant for Boston Consulting Group, a savvy problem-solver who understands the good that his high-profile platform can do when teamed with experts like Sachs.

About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.

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