The voice heard around the world trembles with pride, remembering home.
“You want to know what L.A. is?” Black Eyed Peas frontman William Adams asks.
It’s not Hollywood, he explains. It’s not the Lakers. Nor the Rams.
The heart of L.A., he proclaims, is east of Interstate 5.
“That’s the real Angelenos,” Adams says.
He grew up there, in a housing project in Boyle Heights. In that community, one day in the year meant everything: the longtime East L.A. Classic rivalry game between Roosevelt and Garfield high schools, the football game that exploded with East Los Angeles culture.
Adams — better known as will.i.am — has graced stages from the Super Bowl to the Grammys, and now he is coming back to his beginnings with a halftime performance at this year’s East L.A. Classic on Friday at the Coliseum. With the Black Eyed Peas’ high-energy hip-hop show, which he’s producing, he promises to “up the awesomeness” of the Classic — a celebration he feels families, students and communities deserve.
“It’s going to feel like a Super Bowl,” Roosevelt senior Jared Andrade said. “A Super Bowl [for] Boyle Heights.”
Adams already has performed at the Classic. Kind of.
Last year, standing by the East L.A. College field at halftime, Adams was handed the mic and performed an impromptu rendition of the Black Eyed Peas hit “I Gotta Feeling.”
“The crowd went crazy for it,” Adams said.
He was there with best friend Virginia Childress, whose late father Dickie Guillen was a beloved coach for both Garfield and Roosevelt. Adams’ uncle, Lynn Cain, was a Roosevelt alumnus who went on to play for USC and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Rams, and he will perform the coin toss Friday. Performing in front of a Boyle Heights crowd at the Coliseum, Adams said, will be full circle for his entire family.
“This is a moment,” Adams said, “to show, to celebrate the heroes of our past — the Coach Dickies, the Lynn Cains.”
Boyle Heights was one of the original communities of Los Angeles, long a working-class area of first Jewish and then Mexican immigrants that Roosevelt coach Aldo Parral called the “backbone” of a city defined by glamour.
“No matter what community is there, they’re proud of being there,” Adams said.
That pride has fueled a football rivalry that’s big enough to be recognized by the corporate world: McDonald’s is a sponsor of this year’s Classic, as well as the Dodgers.
“For one night, the sports world will look to these two little Mexican schools,” Parral said. “Obviously, we don’t have the same caliber of player that Mater Dei or St. John Bosco have. But it’s pretty cool that there’s something unique about us.”
Another sponsor is Adams’ i.am/Angel foundation, which hosts college scholarship and preparation programs for Boyle Heights students.
Some of the players taking the field for the Classic, Adams said, are part of those programs. He’s producing the halftime show in part to honor both them and the “beautiful culture” he grew up around.
“It’s the type of celebration [that] inspires the students and the families to push themselves to stay there, to stay in the community, as transformation happens in Boyle Heights,” he said.
The energy is different. The hype is different. The anticipation is different.
The experience of playing in the Classic, Andrade said, is unique. Hearts thump a little harder, thousands of eyes watching, people the players have known while growing up. And returning to the Coliseum, where the Classic was held for a few years before switching to East Los Angeles College, makes it that much bigger.
“It being our last year, especially for us seniors, it feels good knowing that one of the biggest games of our lives will be played in one of the biggest college football facilities ever,” Andrade said.
The halftime extravaganza, Garfield coach Lorenzo Hernandez said, is “icing on the cake” for one of the most charged on-field matchups in recent Classic memory.
Last year, Roosevelt knocked off Garfield for the first time in a decade. The balance of power has shifted, with the Rough Riders 7-0 this season behind a surgically precise double-wing offense. Both are undefeated in the Eastern League, meaning a title is on the line Friday.
Parral won’t bring his players into the locker room at halftime, he said.
“I’m not an idiot — I know the kids want to see it,” the coach said of the performance.
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