John Legend
Singer / Songwriter
03:41

The Lucky Break

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Legend got his start playing piano for Lauryn Hill.

John Legend

John Legend, is an American soul singer, songwriter, and pianist. He has won six Grammy Awards.  Born John Stephens, Legend was a child prodigy who grew up in Ohio, where he began singing gospel and playing piano at the tender age of five. Legend left Ohio at 16 to attend college in Philadelphia, and it was there that he first found a larger audience. Not yet out of his teens, Legend was tapped to play piano on Lauryn Hill's "Everything Is Everything" in 1998.

After completing college, he moved to New York, where he began to build a loyal following playing in nightclubs and releasing CDs that he would sell at shows. He also became an in-demand session musician, playing and occasionally writing for a wide array of artists, including Alicia Keys, Twista, Janet Jackson, and Kanye West.

It wasn't until West signed the young talent to his new label that he adopted the Legend name with 2004's Solo Sessions Vol. 1: Live at the Knitting Factory. Get Lifted, his first studio album, was released later in the year. On the strength of enduring single "Ordinary People," the album reached the Top Five of the Billboard 200. This led to three Grammy Awards: Best R&B Album, Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, and Best New Artist. Once Again, which peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and number one on the R&B/hip-hop Albums chart, followed in October 2006. Live from Philadelphia, sold exclusively at Target stores, was a successful stopgap release that predated October 2008's Evolver.

Transcript

Question: How did you find your way into the music industry?

John Legend:  Well I’ve been working in music and I’ve been playing since I was as kid. But in the industry itself, the first record I ever played on that was a major record was Lauryn Hill’s album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, back in 1998. I was still in college at University of Pennsylvania. I had a friend who was a friend of Lauryn’s and she introduced me to her. This was after the success of The Score by the Fugees. And so Lauryn was a big star, and everyone was anticipating her solo album. And I went to the studio with them one day and just hung out, and she heard me sing. I played a couple of songs for her, and she thought I sounded good and wanted me to play piano for the track she was working on. So I did it, played on it, and she liked what I did, and she kept it on the album. The song was called “Everything Is Everything”, which was a pretty big hit back in ’98, ’99, and I was just really proud to be part of such an important album.

And that was my first entry into the big time, the big leagues of the music business. But it was just a session. I just played the piano and that was that.

As I progressed as a writer and as a singer, I worked with different producers – some in Philly, some in New York – and I put a couple different variations of my band together, and I just kept trying to get a record deal. I would play at local clubs in New York and Philadelphia, sometimes Atlanta, sometimes D.C., just trying to get some buzz and building an audience. And it kept building and building.

A couple years into me living in New York, I met Kanye West who at the time was still an unknown producer from Chicago who had just moved out to the East Coast. He is the cousin of one of my good friends, DeVaughn Harris, who is also a producer and one of my classmates from college.

And we started working together, Kanye and I, and I think that was the biggest difference-maker in my career. When I started working with him, his star was just starting to ascend and I kind of hitched onto that. And his ascension really helped me get noticed by the right people, and we made some really cool music together, him and I, on his project, and also on my own project and other people’s projects like Slum Village, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z.

All these things were happening before I got a record deal, and they were helping me get the buzz and the energy around my project that I needed to get a record deal. And finally in 2004, I signed with Sony through Kanye’s imprint, and I released my first Album, Get Lifted, in December of 2004.

Recorded on: Jan 29, 2008


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