John Roger Stephens (born December 28, 1978), better known by his stage name John Legend, is an American singer-songwriter and actor. He is the recipient of nine Grammy Awards, and in 2007, he received the special Starlight award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
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 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: 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, a factory worker and former National Guardsman. Throughout his childhood, Stephens was homeschooled on and off by his mother. At the age of four, he began playing the piano and at the age of seven, he performed with his church choir. When he was ten, his parents divorced, causing his mother to suffer a breakdown. At the age of 12, Stephens attended North High School, from which he graduated four years later. He graduated salutatorian.
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 a nickname that was given to him by poet J. Ivy, due to Stephens' "old-school sound". 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 seven on the Billboard 200, selling 116,000 copies in its first week. It went on to sell 2.1 million copies in the United States and was certified Platinum by the RIAA. It has sold three million copies worldwide. The album produced two singles: "Ordinary People" (US and UK top 30) went straight to number four and "Used to Love U" (US top 100, UK top 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 titled "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", he explained his reasons for titling 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 off 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 & work on new album:
Legend is currently on 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".
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 claims he gave Legend a demo of the song in 2004 following a concert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Legend has 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." 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."
In 2005 he was featured in the Fort Minor song "High Road".,
In 2006 he was featured in Sérgio Mendes's collaboration album, Timeless, singing "Please Baby Don't".,
In 2006 collaborated with Jay-Z on the album Kingdom Come on the song "Do U Wanna Ride".,
Collaborated with Japanese R&B duo CHEMISTRY on their 2006 single "Tōkage".,
Collaborated with Mary J. Blige on "King & Queen".,
In 2007 lent his vocals for the Rich Boy track "Ghetto Rich".,
In 2008 collaborated with Colombian Rock artist Juanes at the Latin Grammys, singing in Spanish along with Juanes, on the bilingual version of the song "Si tu estas ahi" also known as "If You Are Out There".,
Featured in The Black Eyed Peas song, "Like That". The song "Ordinary People" was originally meant to be for a Black Eyed Peas project, but he decided to keep it for himself and recorded the song after he had been signed to Columbia Records.,
Tentatively worked with Michael Jackson on a future album. In a Dutch interview with singer and host Tommy Parker, he was asked about this collaboration. His response was that he had written one song for the upcoming album, but was unsure about whether Jackson would be using it.,
Sang "The Girl is Mine" and the national anthem along with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.,
Featured on the sixth track ("Heartbreaker") of MSTRKRFT's second album Fist of God.,
He collaborated with Fergie for her song "Finally" on her 2006 debut album "The Dutchess".,
Featured in T.I.'s song "Slide Show" on his album Paper Trail. A music video for "Slide Show" was released on August 10, 2009, featuring a video collage; it is unknown as of yet, however, if it is an official single.,
He is also featured in the song "Magnificent" by Rick Ross. The music video has cameo appearances from DJ Khaled saying and wearing "We the Best!!", Birdman, Ace Hood, Triple C's, and Special Ed. It was released on March 3, 2009, and it was directed by music video director Gil Green. It was filmed at Gulfstream Park Racetrack in Hallandale Beach, Florida. The two later collaborated on the songs "Sweet Life" and "Free Mason," the former of which failed to make the cut for the follow-up album, Teflon Don, and the latter of which featured rapper Jay-Z as well.,
Co-wrote (and played piano on) "Move on Me" by British singer-songwriter Fin Greenall (a.k.a Fink) from the album "Sort of Revolution" (2009),
Collaborated with Reggae legend Buju Banton on the track "Can't Be My Lover". The track is one of the biggest mixes of R&B and Reggae/Dancehall in years.,
In 2009 recorded a duet with Brazilian singer Ana Carolina called "pt:Entreolhares (The Way You're Looking at Me)". He sings in English, and she sings in Portuguese.,
In the summer of 2009 he recorded a duet with ex-member of Sin Bandera, Noel Schajris, called "No Importa" (It Doesn't Matter). He sings in English and Spanish.,
In 2009 a duet version "Save Room" featuring German band, Monrose, was released under the title "Save Room (Let's Get Strictly Physical)".,
Has plans to collaborate with British born talent, Stefan Vitalis, to produce a soulful and dynamic record.,
Recorded a cover of the U2 song "Pride (in the name of love)",
Collaborated with Nas for the title track on DJ Khaled's 2010 album Victory.,
In 2010 collaborated with Pink and Herbie Hancock for a recording of Peter Gabriel's song "Don't Give Up", which featured on Hancock's album The Imagine Project.,
Collaborated with Lupe Fiasco on the track "Never Forget You.",
Collaborated with Kanye West on the song "Blame Game" on West's album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.,
In September 2010 collaborated with British dubstep trio, Magnetic Man, on a track entitled "Getting Nowhere".,
Collaborated with Lil Wayne on the track "So Special." On Wayne's album Tha Carter IV.,
Sang a duet with jazz singer Cassandra Wilson "Watch the Sunrise" co-written by Legend on her 2010 album Silver Pony.,
Collaborated with Mariah Carey in 2011 on a duet version of her holiday track "When Christmas Comes" from her 2010 album, Merry Christmas II You.,
Collaborated with Tiziano Ferro on the track "Karma" from Tiziano Ferro album, L'amore è una cosa semplice.,
Music videos and acting career:
His cover of Stevie Wonder's 1974 hit song "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" appeared in Will Smith/Eva Mendes' film Hitch and on the soundtrack album of the movie.
The 2007 video for his single, "P.D.A. (We Just Don't Care)", features Alexandre Rodrigues and Alice Braga from the critically acclaimed film, City of God.
Songs attributed to John Legend have appeared in feature films, as follows:
"Refuge" appears on the soundtrack to the 2006 film The Second Chance.,
"Dare to Dream" is in the 2007 movie Pride.,
"Someday" is part of the soundtrack to the 2007 film August Rush.,
"Shine" was written for the end credits of the 2010 film Waiting for Superman.,
He has a supporting, singing-only role in the 2008 movie Soul Men, where he plays the deceased lead singer of a fictitious soul group that includes Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac. Although he has no real dialogue in the film, he only sings a song called "I'm Your Puppet" along with Jackson and Mac.
Television appearances and commercials:
Performed "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch at the 2006 Major League Baseball All Star Game in Pittsburgh, PA.,
Appeared on the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm, singing a cover of "You Don't Know Me". He also appeared on an episode of the television series "Las Vegas" in February 2007, performing his single "Save Room" solo at the end of the episode.,
In 2007 performed with John Mayer and Corinne Bailey Rae at the Grammy Awards. He later appeared with Bailey Rae in several live performances.,
Appeared in a recent commercial for a Lexus SUV, in which Legend is shown listening to Nina Simone's "Backlash Blues" (recorded live in Paris, 1968, on The Great Show LP) and describing his experience with the music. He is also notable for performing closing music in many of Apple Inc CEO Steve Jobs' keynote presentations.,
In January 2008 sang in a video for Barack Obama, produced by Will.I.Am called "Yes We Can".,
Performed "America The Beautiful" at WrestleMania XXIV on Sunday March 30, 2008 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.,
In a 2008 Target commercial performed a piece of his song "Slow Dance" to pitch his new album "available exclusively at Target." The commercial was shown during online streaming episodes of NBC programs.,
In 2008 performed several numbers live in front of tens of thousands of fans during the "Welcome to America" July 4 celebration on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Philadelphia, PA.,
Performed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver in September 2008.,
Appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher on October 31, 2008. He was a member of the panel and performed "If You're Out There" at the end of the show.,
Appeared on CNN Heroes 2008, which was taped November 22, 2008, and was televised November 27, 2008.,
Appeared to perform the song in duet with Colombian rock singer Juanes during the 9th Annual Latin Grammy Awards at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas on November 13, 2008. The version they performed was sung mostly in Spanish by both singers, with only a few lines in English.,
On Sunday, January 18, 2009, performed at the We Are One:The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, singing James Taylor's "Shower the People" with James Taylor and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland.,
On Friday, February 13, 2009, he was a guest and performed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. John performed his song, "Everybody Knows" from his album, Evolver.,
Performed at the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition Launch party at LAX in Las Vegas on February 12, 2009.,
Performed at the 2009 NBA All-Star Game halftime show on February 15, 2009.,
Performed at the 81st Academy Awards on February 22, 2009, singing "Down to Earth" nominated for Best Original Song.,
On an episode of The Colbert Report which aired March 7, 2008, performed "The Girl Is Mine" with Stephen Colbert. It was a remake of the Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney hit. Returned to The Colbert Report on April 14, 2008, performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" with Stephen Colbert, opening the show's week in Philadelphia. He later appeared in Colbert's Christmas special A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All, where he performed an ode to nutmeg. His fourth appearance aired September 9, 2010, when he performed a tribute to returning American troops in the second half of the two-part special Been There, Won That: The Returnification of the Ameri-Can-Do Troopscape. He sung "Coming Home" from his 2006 album Once Again.,
On Sunday, May 17, 2009, served as commencement speaker for the University of Pennsylvania's 2009 graduation ceremonies. Amy Goodman happened to be in the audience, and she televised the speech the following Tuesday, May 19, 2009 on Democracy Now!.,
On June 12, 2009, co-hosted ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning on the ESPN2/ESPN Radio simulcast with Mike Greenberg. He sat in for Mike Golic.,
On August 23, 2010, performed at the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant, Evening Gown segment, in Las Vegas, Nevada.,
On October 27, 2010, performed the American National Anthem for the 2010 World Series opener.,
On October 30, 2010, performed at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear with The Roots.,
On February 24, 2011, Legend appeared on the season 2 finale of Royal Pains.,
Interviewed by host John Jacobsen as the third guest on the first season of PBS television's The Artist Toolbox.,
Charitable Endeavors & Philanthropy:
On July 7, 2007, he participated in the Live Earth concert in London, performing "Ordinary People". On July 8, 2007, he participated in the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, with India.Arie. On July 11, 2007, he participated in the Jazz Open Festival in Stuttgart, Germany, with Amy Winehouse. On September 21, 2008, he also performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, UK in conjunction with the Peace One Day concert. He sang "Green Light" and "If You're Out There".
The Show Me Campaign google , through which his fans are encouraged to donate funds toward improving the living situations and prospects of victims of extreme poverty in Mbola, Tanzania, is another example of Stephens' charitable involvement. In early 2008, he began touring with Professor Jeff Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute to promote sustainable development as an achievable goal.
Stephens returned to his hometown of Springfield, Ohio on Christmas Eve 2007 for a "Coming Home Christmas Benefit Concert" in the auditorium of North High School. The performance featured several local talent from Springfield, including Legend's younger brother Vaughn Anthony Stephens, who helped organize the concert. The performance also featured a tribute to Jason Collier, and proceeds went to a scholarship fund set up in his name for local high schoolers.
After reading Professor Jeffrey Sachs' book, The End of Poverty, Stephens was inspired to visit Ghana to learn more about making life better for the people who live under the poverty line. This is when he started his "Show Me Campaign" in 2007. With this campaign, Stephens called on his fans to help him in his initiative for those who reside in Bossaso Village and non-profit organizations that the campaign partners with.
In 2007 Stephens was the spokesman for GQ Magazine's "Gentlemen's Fund", an initiative to raise support and awareness for five cornerstones essential to men: opportunity, health, education, environment, and justice.
In May 2007 he partnered with Tide laundry detergent to raise awareness about the need of families in St. Bernard Parish, (Slidell, LA) one of the most devastated areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. He spent a day folding laundry at the Tide "clean start" mobile laundromat and visited homes which Tide is helping to rebuild in that community.
In October 2007 he became involved with a project sponsored by The Gap, a retail clothing store chain in the United States. Through their "project red campaign" (also called "2 WEEKS"), The Gap's contribution to their global fund from the sale of each (2 WEEKS) t-shirt is equivalent to the average cost of 2 weeks of anti-retroviral medicine in Africa, which enables people living with HIV to lead healthy, normal lives.
In 2009 Stephens gave AIDS Service Center NYC permission to remix his song "If You're Out There" to create a music video promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and testing.
Stephens claims to have contributed a share of the proceeds of some tickets for his August 13, 2009, concert at Madison Square Garden to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Stephens is also the National spokesperson for and has performed benefit concerts for "Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT). MLT is a national non-profit organization that has made ground-breaking progress assisting the next generation of African American, Hispanic and Native American leaders in major corporations, non-profit organizations and entrepreneurial ventures.
On January 22, 2010, he performed "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" on the Hope for Haiti Now telethon show.
On September 8, 2010, John Legend joined the national board of Teach For America. Legend also sits on the boards of The Education Equality Project and the Harlem Village Academies, and serves as co-chair (with Rupert Murdoch) of the Harlem Village Academies' National Leadership Board.
On September 9, 2010, he performed "Coming Home" on the Colbert Report as a tribute song for the end of combat operations in Iraq, and for the active troops and the veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
In 2011, he contributed the track "Love I've Never Known" to the Red Hot Organization's most recent album "Red Hot+Rio 2." The album is a follow-up to the 1996 "Red Hot+Rio." Proceeds from the album sales will be donated to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues.
On March 6, 2012, John Legend was appointed by the World Economic Forum to the Forum of Young Global Leaders.
Stephens is currently a spokesperson for the Baileys line of alcoholic beverages. He also spoke on behalf of The Polka Dotz at Milwaukee's 2008 German Fest.
He performed and spoke at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, on behalf of the Barack Obama Presidential campaign in April 2008. He later performed "If You're Out There" from the album Evolver and a duet of Will.i.am's "Yes We Can" at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. Also, he performed a half-hour set list in support of Barack Obama in his hometown of Springfield, as well as at The Ohio State University and Wright State University campuses on September 29, 2008.
edit Private "Fan Appreciation" Events:
On July 26, 2007, Stephens hosted a John Legend Network Members Only Party and Concert called "The Kings & Queens Bash" at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. There were 500 participants in attendance and he introduced the acts from his new label, Homeschool Records to his John Legend Network fans: Estelle, his brother, Vaughn Anthony Stephens, Lucy Woodward and The James Gang. Harmonicist Frederic Yonnet performed as a special guest.
On July 25, 2008, at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, John Legend planned another annual private event for his fans who are members of the John Legend Network called "John Legend Unplugged". Legend performed a 21-song set list, including several songs from his Evolver album. This allowed John Legend Network members to be the first to hear the new songs. After the party, John greeted each individual on their way out and took pictures with fans.
On February 8, 2011 John Legend performed and spoke at Arizona State University's Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, Arizona for a Black History Month event presented by the Undergraduate Student Government of ASU.