Amidst the popular music culture of auto-tuning and corporate record labels’ fleeting false idols, John Legend is nothing if not the real deal. His unmistakable voice calls back to the golden age of soul and R&B music, uncovering a path laid by greats like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Even so, Legend has also tied himself to modern hip-hop, jazz-fusion, and neo-soul styles, daring to bring a classic sound into the modern era.
Born into a humble Midwestern family, Legend was homeschooled throughout much of his childhood. He began learning to play the piano at just four years old, and was performing with his church by the age of seven. As a college student, he earned critical acclaim for his work as a choral arranger and music director of his a cappella group. He also formed a lasting friendship with Lauryn Hill, who gave him his first major break with an appearance on her song, “Everything is Everything.” After graduating from college, Legend devoted his free time outside of work playing shows and recording his demo. Before long, he was introduced to Kanye West and offered a contract with West’s record label, GOOD Music. Legend quickly became known for his work as a featured vocalist for artists such as Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, The Black Eyed Peas, The Roots, and, of course, Kanye West. He has also released three albums under his own name, each garnering great critical acclaim. In less than ten years as a signed recording artist, Legend has already won nine Grammy Awards. His fourth album is set for release in the fall of 2013.
Many would attest to Legend being one of the purest talents in music today, and, unsurprisingly, he is also one of the best connected. He has collaborated and performed with dozens of artists, including Sly & The Family Stone, Common, and even Michael Jackson. Yet despite his continuing rise into stardom, Legend remains one of the most gracious and outspoken advocates for some of today’s most challenging sociopolitical issues. He has teamed up with major corporations to build awareness campaigns as well as funding for those in need. Some examples of his efforts include a campaign with Tide in support of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and a campaign with The Gap to provide relief to Africans suffering from HIV/AIDS. In addition to performing at the Live Earth and Hope for Haiti Now concerts, Legend has toured in support of global warming awareness, women’s health issues, sustainability, and youth education programs.
In addition to his many talents as a musician, John Legend also holds the rare gift of wisdom. He has made it clear that he is pursuing goals far greater than mere fame or material goods – he thrives by connecting people through music and activism, by making the world a more hopeful place. His true legacy will be rooted in his service as an example for underserved youth – as proof of the power of hard work, education, and civic duty. John Stephens knew he had his work cut out for him when he chose the stage name of John Legend. With the majority of his promising career still ahead of him, Legend is already well on his way to making his mark as a social catalyst and voice that will resonate in the hearts of people around the world for generations to come.