Brief Profile: John Legend

by Duke Magazine

John Roger Stephens, popularly called John Legend, is an American singer, actor, and philantropist. He started his music career as a pianist while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated magma cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on African-American literature in 1999.

Legend started his full time career in music immediately after graduation, and which saw him to independently produce his two albums which are his self-titled demo and ‘Live at Jimmy’s Uptown’ in 2000 and 2001 respectively. Legend was introduced to the rap star, Kanye West in 2001, and his stage name was coined from the perception of  the poet, J. Ivy, who characterized Legend’s songs to the nostalgic feeling of the “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.”

In 2004, Legend released his debut album ‘Get Lifted’ under Kanye West’s production. The album sold of 540,300 copies in the United States was gold certified by the RIAA. With topping the billboard charts across Europe, the album went on to win Legend the 2006 Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. He released his second album ‘Once Again’ in 2006, and this time had a platinum certification for the album by RIAA, and gold certified in Europe.

The song ‘Heaven’ got him the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance at the 2007 Grammy Awards. 

Legend’s exuberance in music has really grown to be one of the best R&B artistes to reckon with as he continues to break bounds with his international acts and collaborations. In February 2011, Legend won three prizes at the 53rd Annual Grammy Music Awards. He was awarded Best R&B Song for ‘Shine’, while he and the Roots won Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album 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. Legend was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Howard University at the 144th Commencement Exercises in 2012. He was in 2018 chosen by Google as one of the six new Google Assistant voices.

In July 2007, Legend participated in the Live Earth concert in London, performing ‘Ordinary People’. 

In his contribution to humanity, after reading Professor Jeff Sach’s book, The End of Poverty, Legend started his Show Me Campaign in 2007. In this campaign, Legend called on his fans to help him in his initiative for residents in Bosaso Village, Somalia. He also had a tour with Alexus Ruffin and Professor Jeff Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute to promote sustainable development as an attainable goal. 

Legend married model Chrissy Teigen in 2013 in Italy. The 2013 song ‘All of Me’ was composed and dedicated to her; the music video was reportedly displayed at their wedding. Their union is blessed with a boy and a girl. On a public ancestry reveal on the PBS series Finding Your Roots, Legend is 64% African, 32% European and 4% Native American.

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