Will Smith took Chicago by storm on Wednesday with the release of his self-titled memoir, “Will.” Smith’s first stop in Chicago was at XS Tennis in Washington Heights to host a tennis clinic with young athletes and promote his new movie “King Richard.” The story is about tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams’ father and their rise to tennis fame. Actresses Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney, who played the tennis stars, were in attendance. King Richard will be in theaters and HBO Max on November 19.
The events in Chicago began with National Geographic’s exclusive clips of the new series “Welcome to Earth” cocktail reception. In the six-episode series, Smith travels across the world to explore Earth’s greatest wonders of the world. The series will be streaming on Disney+ on December 8.
The book tour, “A Conversation with Will Smith,” was held at the Chicago Theatre. Smith took to the stage rapping and received a standing ovation. New York Times bestselling author Mark Manson, who helped Smith with his memoir, discussed topics from Chapter One: Fear to Chapter 21: Love.
Smith read excerpts from the first chapter, “Fear,” witnessing his father punch his mother on the side of her head that caused her to collapse and saw her spit out blood. He felt like a coward because he feared his father and failed his mother.
“That moment in that bedroom, probably more than other moment in my life, has defined who I am today. Within everything that I have done since then, the awards and accolades, the spotlights and the attention, the characters and the laughs, there has been a subtle string of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day. For failing her in that moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward,” says Smith.
Smith talked about how his father, mother, and grandmother, who he called GiGi, was a philosophical triangle in his life. “My father was the disciplinarian; my mother was about education, and my GiGi was about God and love.” Smith remembers when his grandmother found his composition book with profanity in his lyrics and wrote a letter in the front of his book. “Dear Willard, truly intelligent people, do not have to use words like this to express themselves. You have been blessed with the gift of language. Please show the world that you are smart as we think you are. Love GiGi.” Smith did not use profanity in his rap songs in the early part of his career at his grandmother’s request.
Other topics that were discussed was Smith winning his first Grammy as a rap artist in 1989, owed $2.8 million to the IRS, auditioning for the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air at Quincy Jones birthday party, his 30+ year friendship with DJ Jazzy Jeff, and working with the late James Avery, who played Philip Banks.
“James Avery was someone that was always pushing and supporting me. He told me don’t come on the show and be a rapper. If you want to be an actor, take the craft seriously,” says Smith.
While talking about fatherhood and his firstborn, Trey, Smith got on the mic and did a few verses of his song “Just the Two of Us” with images of his children in the background. Smith described dropping to his knees crying in hopes of being a great father as he looked back on his childhood. “I wiped my tears, I stood up, I gently touched Trey’s hair and knew there were two possibilities, one I was going to be the best father or two, I was going to be dead. Trey got the most ignorant version of my parenting, Jayden got Will Dad 2.0, and Willow got the best of me,” says Smith.
Smith concluded by talking about the last chapter on love and the power of forgiveness. “If there is any person in your life that you are postponing cleaning up the mess and even if they are not ready yet, reach out and say I love you. When that person is gone, it’s forever.”
Smith surprised the crowd with his best friend DJ Jazzy Jeff at the turntable and closed the evening rapping the theme song of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the hit song “Summertime” that he wrote in Chicago.
Tammy Gibson is a black history traveler and author. Find her on social media @SankofaTravelHr