By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The frontman for the legendary “Roots” crew today took a little time off from his duties as Tonight Show bandleader to lend his support for a mural that would honor the legacy of a beloved community leader he grew up with in South Philadelphia.

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“What Dr. Shawn White meant to me was everything that a brother means,” Tariq (“Black Thought”) Trotter said today, speaking with passion about his longtime friend.  “We used to make music together in his grandmother’s basement.  And we would talk about our dreams to make it big,” he recalled.  “And even though we went in different fields, we both made our dreams come true.”


(Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter poses with kids from Audenreid Charter High School, 33rd and Tasker, where press conference announcing mural took place.  Photo by Cherri Gregg)

(Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, third from left, poses with kids from Audenreid Charter High School, 33rd and Tasker, where press conference announcing mural project took place. Photo by Cherri Gregg)


Dr. Shawn “Air Smooth” White was an HIV activist, music producer, emcee, father and friend to so many, according to Trotter.   He was co-chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s HIV prevention advisory board and the HIV vaccine Study working group.

White also led “Shape Up: Barbers Building Better Brothers,” promoting health among young African-American men in barbershop settings.

While White was fully committed to his community health programs, Trotter notes, he kept up his work in music. In the 1990s he was part of a group, “Divine Beings.”   He was also the founder of the Phremen Audio Studio Academy, where he helped young people get access to facilities, instruction, and mentoring in music production.

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But White’s life, while full, ended suddenly in April 2013 after a brief bout with hypertension.  He was 41 years old.

Trotter says White was “all about Philly,” and since murals are so engrained in Philadelphia’s arts culture, “It’s only fitting to use Mural Arts to honor Shawn, because he was an artist literally and figuratively.”

The Mural, titled “Aspire,” will be installed at 2059 Dickinson Street, in the Point Breeze neighborhood.

“When there is someone like Shawn White and they die so young like he did, we want to remember him,” said Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program.

Golden says the process of creating the mural will include workshops focused on issues that White cared deeply about, like HIV/AIDS awareness and conflict resolution.

The mural is expected to be dedicated in October.

For more on Shawn White, check out a documentary on his life at


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