Grammy and Academy Award-winning singer-songwriter John Legend is known for such acclaimed albums as ‘Get Lifted’ and ‘Love in the Future.’
Who Is John Legend?
John Legend is a musician and songwriter who has worked with such artists as Alicia Keys, Twista, Janet Jackson and Kanye West. Legend’s debut album, 2004’s Get Lifted, won three Grammy Awards. After two more solo albums, he released his collaboration with the Roots, Wake Up!, in 2010. Legend also appeared on the TV competition Duets as a coach before dropping his next album, 2013’s Love in the Future. The artist shared an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Grammy with Common for their song “Glory,” from the 2014 film Selma, and later received an Emmy for his performance in the 2018 production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.
Early Life and Career
Legend was born John Roger Stephens on December 28, 1978, in Springfield, Ohio. A child prodigy, Legend’s grandmother taught him how to play the piano, and he grew up singing in the church choir. He went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he directed a co-ed a cappella group. After graduation, he switched gears and worked for Boston Consulting Group, but continued to perform in nightclubs in New York City.
He was soon introduced to up-and-coming hip-hop artist Kanye West, and the two musicians collaborated on one another’s demos.
Career Breakthrough: ‘Get Lifted’
Legend’s debut album, 2004’s Get Lifted, went platinum thanks in part to the hit single “Ordinary People,” a song he originally penned for the Black Eyed Peas. He went home with three Grammy Awards for Get Lifted: for best R&B album, best R&B male vocal performance and best new artist. Legend’s sophomore effort, Once Again, was released in 2006.
Legend’s musical talent has made him a mainstream star. In 2006, he performed at Super Bowl XL in Detroit, the NBA All-Star Game and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Pittsburgh.
He soon released several new albums, including Evolver (2008). Evolver featured “Green Light,” a collaboration with André 3000. This song proved to be a modest hit, and the album itself reached the top of the R&B/hip-hop charts.
‘Wake Up!’ and ‘Duets’
In 2010, Legend released Wake Up!, which he recorded with The Roots. The album received raves from music critics and tackled tunes made famous by the likes of Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone. The Curtis Mayfield-penned “Hard Times” was one of the record’s main singles; another hit, “Shine,” Legend’s own composition, earned him a Grammy Award. He and The Roots also won a Grammy for best R&B album in 2011.
Legend tried his hand at reality television with the singing competition Duets during the summer of 2012. He worked alongside Kelly Clarkson, Robin Thicke and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. The musical stars coached and performed with the contestants on the show. Later that year, Legend contributed a new track to Quentin Tarantino‘s film Django Unchained.
Acclaim for ‘All of Me’ and ‘Glory’
2013 saw Legend release his next solo album, Love in the Future, which featured the No. 1 ballad “All of Me” as well as tracks like “Made to Love” and “You & I (Nobody in the World).” In 2015, the songwriter, along with rapper Common, won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song—”Glory”—from the film Selma. The tune also won a Grammy and an Academy Award, with both artists using their Oscar acceptance speeches to highlight contemporary issues that connected to the Civil Rights Movement.
On October 7, 2016, Legend debuted a new single, “Love Me Now.” He followed in December with his fifth solo studio album, Darkness and Light, which features collaborations with Miguel and Chance the Rapper.
‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and EGOT
In 2018, Legend starred in NBC’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert as the religious leader in his final days. Broadcast from Brooklyn’s Marcy Avenue Armory on Easter Sunday, the adaptation also included veteran rocker Alice Cooper as King Herod, and fellow chart-topping artist Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene.
On September 9, 2018, Legend made history as the youngest person ever — and the first African American man — to join the exclusive EGOT club. (EGOT stands for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.) Legend, along with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, shared the Outstanding Live Variety Special Emmy for Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.
“Before tonight, only 12 people had won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony in competitive categories,” Legend wrote on Instagram. “Sirs Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice and I joined that group when we won an Emmy for our production of their legendary show Jesus Christ Superstar. So happy to be part of this team. So honored they trusted me to play Jesus Christ. So amazed to be in such rarefied air.”
October 2018 brought the release of A Legendary Christmas, a mix of traditional and original holiday songs that included an assist from Stevie Wonder on “What Christmas Means to Me.” Although A Legendary Christmas was unable to capitalize on its Grammy nomination for best traditional pop vocal album, Legend did earn a Grammy for best rap/sung performance at the 2020 ceremony, sharing the win with DJ Khaled and Nipsey Hussle for their collaboration on “Higher.”
Legend went on to release a new single, “Conversations in the Dark,” and announce plans for a summer 2020 tour. That spring, with the public reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, he contributed to Lady Gaga‘s massive One World: Together at Home benefit concert, before pairing with Jennifer Hudson for a highly praised rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” for The Disney Family Singalong: Volume II.
‘The Voice’ Coach
In late summer 2018, it was announced that Legend would join Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson as a coach on season 16 of the singing competition series The Voice. Legend went on to claim bragging rights as the winning coach with his selection of Maelyn Jarmon, before returning for season 17 of the show in fall 2019.
Legend released Bigger Love on June 19, 2020. “During these painful times, some of us may wonder if it’s ok to laugh or dance or be romantic,” he said. “Lately, the images of Black people in the media have been showing us with knees on our necks, in mourning, or expressing our collective outrage. We feel all those emotions. But It’s important for us to continue to show the world the fullness of what it is to be Black and human. Through our art, we are able to do that. This album is a celebration of love, joy, sensuality, hope and resilience, the things that make our culture so beautiful and influential.”
Personal Life and Wife
Outside of music, Legend is involved in numerous social and charitable causes. He is a supporter of the Harlem Village Academies, a New York City organization that runs several charter schools. Legend serves as a vice-chairman on the HVA board.
He explained to Black Enterprise magazine why education is such an important issue to him: “I come from a city where 40 percent to 50 percent of our kids drop out of high school. I did well in high school and then went to an Ivy League school, but I was the exception. We need to do more to make sure every kid has a quality education.”
Continuing with his commitment to education reform, Legend lent his song “Shine” to the 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman. The film takes a critical look at the nation’s public school system.
Legend became engaged to model Chrissy Teigen while the couple was on vacation in the Maldives in late 2011. They tied the knot in September 2013 in Italy. On April 14, 2016, the pair welcomed their first child, a daughter named Luna Simone. On May 16, 2018, they announced the arrival of baby No. 2, son Miles Theodore Stephens.
In August 2020, Teigen and Legend announced they were expecting their third child by debuting Teigen’s baby bump in Legend’s music video for “Wild.” In September 2020, the couple lost the child – a son they named Jack – after pregnancy complications.