John Legend Biography
Prior to the release of his debut album, Stephens' career gained momentum through a series of successful collaborations with multiple established artists. Stephens added his voice to those of other artists, assisting in them reaching chart-topper hits. He lent his voice to Magnetic Man's "Getting Nowhere," Kanye West's "All of the Lights", on Slum Village's "Selfish" and Dilated Peoples' "This Way". Other artists included Jay-Z's "Encore", and he sang backing vocals on Alicia Keys' 2003 song "You Don't Know My Name" and Fort Minor's "High Road". Stephens played piano on Lauryn Hill's "Everything Is Everything".
Career and life
1978–2003: 20th century Early life and career beginnings
Stephens was born on December 28, 1978, in Springfield, Ohio. He is the son of Phyllis, a seamstress, and Ronald Stephens, a factory worker and former National Guardsman. Throughout his childhood, Stephens was homeschooled on and off by his mother. At age four, he began playing the piano and at age seven, he performed with his church choir. When he was ten, his parents divorced. At the age of 12, Stephens attended North High School, from which he graduated four years later. He graduated salutatorian. He was student body president of Springfield North High School his senior year.
According to Stephens, he was offered scholarships to Harvard University, Georgetown University and Morehouse College. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied English with an emphasis on African American literature. While in college, he helmed Counterparts, a co-ed jazz and pop a cappella group as president (1997–1998) and musical director (1998–1999). Stephens' lead vocals on the group's recording of Joan Osborne's "One of Us" received critical acclaim landing the song on the track list of the 1998 Best of Collegiate a Cappella compilation CD. Stephens was also a member of the prestigious Sphinx Senior Society while an undergraduate at Penn. While in college, Stephens was introduced to Lauryn Hill by a friend. Hill hired him to play piano on "Everything Is Everything", a song from her album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
During this period, Stephens took time to hold a number of shows around Philadelphia, eventually expanding his audience base to New York, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. He finished college in 1999, and thereafter began producing, writing, and recording his own music. He released two albums independently; his self-titled demo (2000) and Live at Jimmy's Uptown (2001), which he sold at his shows.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Stephens began working as a management consultant for the Boston Consulting Group. During this time, he began working on his demo and began sending his work to various record labels. In 2001, Devo Springsteen introduced Stephens to then up-and-coming hip-hop artist Kanye West; Stephens was hired to sing during the hooks of West's music. After signing to West's label, he chose his stage name from an idea that was given to him by poet J. Ivy, due to what he perceived as Stephens' "old-school sound". J. Ivy stated, "I heard your music and it reminds me of that music from the old school. You sound like one of the legends. As a matter of fact, that's what I'm going to call you from now on! I'm going to call you John Legend." After J. Ivy continued to call him by the new moniker "John Legend," others quickly caught on, including Kanye West, and the name stuck. In spite of John's reluctance to change his stage name from John Stephens to John Legend he eventually announced his new artist name as John Legend. Stephens' vocals can be heard on several tracks including Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name", Jay-Z's "Encore", Kanye West's "Never Let Me Down", also featuring Jay-Z and J. Ivy, Dilated Peoples' "This Way" and Slum Village's "Selfish".
2004–2005: Get Lifted
Stephens released his debut album, Get Lifted, in December 2004. It debuted at number thirteen on the billboard 200, selling 12,000 copies in its first week. It went on to sell 540,300 copies in the United States and was certified gold by the RIAA. It has sold 850,000 copies worldwide. The album produced two singles: "Ordinary People" which debuted at 39 on the hot 100, peaking at 29 and "Used to Love U" which debuted at 45 and peaked at 30.
2006–2007: Once Again
The first single from his second album, Once Again, was "Save Room". The album was released October 24, 2006, and boasts production from Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq, and will.i.am. In an interview with MTV, he said that this album contained his favorite song that he had written to date, entitled "Again". He said he came up with the idea for the song and wrote some of it while sitting on a subway. He stated that the song was also the inspiration for the album's title.
In August 2006 Stephens appeared in an episode of Sesame Street. He performed a song entitled "It Feels Good When You Sing a Song", a duet with Hoots the Owl. He also performed during the pregame show of Super Bowl XL in Detroit and the halftime show at the 2006 NBA All-Star Game.
Stephens released his third studio album, Evolver, in October 2008. Rapper Andre 3000 of OutKast is featured on the first single of the album on a song entitled "Green Light". "It's going to be a surprise for a lot of John Legend fans, because it is a lot more upbeat than John is — than people think John is," Andre insisted. "I was actually happy to hear it. This is a cool John Legend song". The next single from Evolver was confirmed as "Everybody Knows".
Speaking in July 2008 to noted UK R&B writer Pete Lewis of the award-winning Blues & Soul magazine, he explained his reasons for calling the album Evolver: "Well, I think people sometimes come to expect certain things from certain artists. They expect you to kind of stay in the same place you were at when you started out. Whereas I feel I want my career to be defined by the fact that I'm NOT gonna stay in the same place, and that I'm always gonna try new things and experiment. So, as I think this album represents a manifestation of that, I came up with the title 'Evolver'."
In 2009, Stephens performed in The People Speak, a documentary feature film that uses dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries, and speeches of everyday Americans, based on historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.
2010: Wake Up!
John Legend and The Roots teamed up to record a collaborative album, Wake Up!, which was released on September 21, 2010. The first single released from the album was "Wake Up Everybody" featuring singer Melanie Fiona and rapper Common; a video for the song has been released. "Hard Times" is the second single.
In February 2011 John won three Grammy Awards (one by himself and two with The Roots) at the 53rd Annual Grammy Music Awards Ceremony. Legend won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for "Shine", and he and The Roots won Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album (Wake Up!) and Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for "Hang On In There". In March 2011 Legend and the Roots won two NAACP Image Awards – one for Outstanding Album (Wake Up!) and one for Outstanding Duo, Group or Collaboration.
2011–present: Tour, Duets TV show and Love In the Future
Summer 2011, Legend completed a 50-date tour as a guest for British soul band Sade. In the San Diego stop, Legend confirmed that he is working on his next studio album and played a new song called "Dreams". Later, via his official website, he revealed the official title of the album to be Love In the Future, and debuted part of a new track called "Caught Up". The album will be produced by Legend himself, along with Kanye West and Dave Tozer. This same production team worked on Legend's previous albums Get Lifted and Once Again.
Legend was granted an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Howard University at the 144th Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 12, 2012.
Legend is currently a judge on the ABC music show Duets along with Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Nettles and Robin Thicke. Legend's spot was originally for Lionel Richie but he had to leave the show due to a scheduling conflict. Duets debuted on Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 8/7c.
On July 5, 2011, songwriter Anthony Stokes filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against John Legend in United States District Court, in the District of New Jersey, alleging that Legend's song "Maxine's Interlude" from his 2006 album Once Again derives from Stokes' demo "Where Are You Now". Stokes claimed he gave Legend a demo of the song in 2004 following a concert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Legend denied the allegations, telling E! Online, "I never heard of his song until he sued me. I would never steal anyone's song. We will fight it in court and we will prevail." However, nearly 60,000 people took a TMZ.com poll that compared the two songs and 65% of voters believed that Legend's "Maxine's Interlude" is a rip-off of Stokes' "Where Are You Now". A year later, Legend confirmed that he has now settled the lawsuit with Stokes.