WAt age 15, John Stephens of Springfield, Ohio, entered a McDonald’s essay contest for Black History Month. Asked “How are you going to make black history?” He wrote about his vision of being a successful musician and using his platform to fight for racial justice and social equality. He won the game.
That 1994 article was not a teenage fantasy, but some kind of prophecy.by his stage name john legend, who has sold over 10 million albums in the US alone since his 2004 debut, Get Lifted. His 2013 single All of Me — written for his wife, model and writer Chrissy Teigen — is one of the best-selling digital singles of all time, with 1.7 billion streams on Spotify. He won all four major U.S. entertainment awards — two Emmys, 12 Grammys, an Oscar and a Tony — becoming the first African-American to do so, and one of all The second youngest person by race or gender.
In the field of social justice, the 43-year-old also lived up to his word, launching FreeAmerica, a nonprofit in 2014, to address U.S. Highest incarceration rate in the worldand for a more humane drug policy.
He had just dropped off his two children, Luna and Miles, to school and settled into his white-walled home office in Los Angeles when we were on the video call. Leaning in front of the camera, he speaks in that instantly recognizable baritone voice, and he’s wearing a hoodie with the words “Love Las Vegas” emblazoned on it, he’s in Las Vegas The name of the place where he lived for 24 nights. He was preparing for the third week of the show, which began the next night.
“It’s a milestone,” he said of the residency program — an honor usually awarded to superstars late in their careers, such as Elton John and Anita Baker. “It’s an interesting time because I have enough careers to look back on. But I also have a lot of music in my heart, and a lot of new music coming — I don’t feel like this is the start of my retirement anyway.”
In fact, Legend is gearing up for the release of his eighth album later this year. Its first single, Dope, is like Pharrell’s pinnacle of funk, expounding Legend’s obsession with syncopated, shaky rhythm love. However, not every track is so cheerful and frivolous. Some are inspired by darker moments in the legend’s life, such as his son Jack’s miscarriage in 2020.
“Having music deals with the feeling of grief and mourning and trying to pick up pieces after losing something,” he said. “It’s really hard for a family when you’ve lost a pregnancy and you have to go through that kind of grief together. Hopefully making music with it heals me and others.”
This isn’t the first time Legend has gone public with his family’s grief. In September 2020, Teigen shared a series of candid black-and-white photos of her and Legend in the hospital immediately after the miscarriage. On Instagram, the images sparked messages of support, and rebound Thinking they were “inappropriate” and even questioning whether they were staged for sympathy.A month later, Teigen an online paper“These photos are only for those who need them. What other people think is not important to me.”
“It’s raw, sharing our experience,” Legend says now. “I was worried, but our gut instinct was to do it because people knew we were pregnant and Chrissy felt like she needed to tell exactly what happened.” What were the consequences? “I was amazed at the love and support we felt,” he said. “Also, we found out how many other families have been through this. It’s a powerful and brave thing for Chrissy to share, because it makes so many people feel like they’ve been seen and that they’re not alone.
“We were tested,” he said. “It was a tragedy. But I think it strengthens our resolve and resilience because we support each other. As a couple and a family, we are more sure of who we are.”
Resilience is something Legendary used to need. The 15-year-old boy who wrote about making history is in the midst of a 10-year estrangement from his mother.
One of four children, Legend grew up in a musical family – his mother Phyllis was a choir conductor, his grandmother an organist and his father a drummer. “Every setting I spent time in was filled with music,” he said, “and by seven I begged my mom to let me join the choir.” But there were some distractions, starting with his parents’ decision to become foster parents. “It was difficult for us,” he recalls. “Whenever you bring new energy into a house, it can cause havoc, and we have had varying degrees of success, especially with teens who have had a lot of trauma and loss.”
When Legend turned 10, things really started to fall apart. His grandmother died and the family was torn apart. “It was a huge trauma for my mother,” he said quietly. “She started withdrawing, she became depressed, she lost love to my dad, they divorced. She eventually turned to drugs to self-treat what she was going through, and we were estranged from her, even though we lived in the same city.”
Between the ages of 10 and 20, Legend hardly spoke to his mother, who spent several times in prison. “She lost us for ten years,” he said. “She went from being a hands-on mother and even homeschooling us to disappearing. It forced me to be independent and take care of myself.”
He threw himself into work and music, skipping two grades at school. At 17, he could choose to study at Harvard, Georgetown or the University of Pennsylvania. He ended up studying English in Pennsylvania. “I’m dividing,” he said. “I thought if I just focused on school and music — two things I love — it would distract me. But as we got older, the personal tragedies we went through as a family started to make a difference. Resonance – I realize that crime, drug use or misconduct are not just personal responsibility, they are products of systemic problems.”
“What my mom needs is help; she doesn’t need to go to jail,” he said. “She needs therapy and counseling to help her get through the loss of her mother and find healthy ways to cope.”
By the time he graduated in 1999, Legend had begun to reconcile with his mother. “It’s an amazing story because she came back and now she’s healthy and no longer on drugs,” he said with a laugh. “She’s a good grandmother in such a nice place.”
His music career also began to flourish.Legend was introduced to the singer by a mutual friend Lauren Hill And was hired to play the piano for her 1998 single Everything Is Everything. It was his first public recognition as a musician, and it became his calling card when he moved to New York in 2000 to work for the Boston Consulting Group. Speaking of the corporate world, he said: “I didn’t want to make it something permanent. That day job was better than being a waitress, and my initial thought was I’d do it for a year and then I’d get a record deal.”
This time, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Legend performs live on weekends and records demos and mixtapes in the evenings. “But I’d be said ‘no’ by a lot of people in the industry,” he said. “I’d get very low record deals, or people would tell me to do more work on the demo.” Then, in 2001, his roommate introduced him to Kanye West“Kanye just moved to New York from Chicago, and we’re all these eager young artists trying to succeed in this industry,” he said. West had already made a name for himself as a producer after working on Jay-Z’s Blueprint album, but he was going to take the rapper seriously and started having Legend attend sessions on his own music.
“Me and Kanye are working on each other’s demos – mine, it’s going to be get promotedAnd his, it’s going to be a college dropout,” Legend said. “Finally, College Dropout came out in 2004, and it just took off. That’s when the music from Get Lifted started to sound a lot better to all record label executives. “
Legend has it that the warm West, now called leaves, despite their political differences. In 2018, West posted a text message from Legend urging him not to use his platform to promote Donald Trump, but rapper doubles down, tweeted in support of Trump, and was often photographed wearing a margarine. While Legend would not comment on the status of their current friendship, he was keen to highlight the pivotal role West played at the start of his career. “Being with Kanye and witnessing his early outbursts helped me prepare for what was to come,” he said. “When I finally got it, I felt like I couldn’t be overwhelmed by it.”
Like West, Legend found it difficult to keep his political views private. The night before our conversation, news leaked about the Supreme Court’s draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which could lead to a ban on abortion across swathes of the United States. “I can’t just watch this happen without saying anything,” Legend said. “We are teetering on the brink of incomplete democracy. We are about to bring The Handmaid’s Tale into law.”
Legend is a longtime Democratic supporter who attended Joe Biden’s inauguration, but his confidence in the president’s power appears to be waning. “As someone who thinks it’s a huge tragedy that we allowed Donald Trump to be president for four years, I feel a strong sense of relief from a new regime of people who really care about this country,” he said. “I’m glad we’re turning a page in what I believe to be a dark age in American history. But right now I’m still very worried.”
He has said before About the radical power of love and its ability to make us value the lives of others – but as political discourse becomes increasingly polarized, is he beginning to realize its limits? “It feels hard to make a change right now,” he said. “I do believe that humans generally want to do the right thing, but conservative movements are not interested in concessions or compromises. They are interested in carte blanche and authoritarianism.”
Like the embattled 15-year-old, he wasn’t ready to sit back and hope for the best. “I am skeptical of the capabilities of the ‘kumbaya’ solution,” he said. “We have to fight at this point and I’ll do my best.” Legends Hours Later tweets He and Teigen are donating to his 13.8 million followers from independent abortion providers across the United States. “We will do everything we can to fight for our fellow citizens and for democracy,” he wrote. “I hope you do too.”
Paint Posted in May 20.