A few things you should probably know about me before I start my feature on the absurdly brilliant, way too talented, almost-so-beautiful-it-hurts-to-look-at-him John Legend.
- I was an acting major and still perform as often as I can. (No, I don’t currently have an agent, but if you’re interested in representing me, I’ve got songs and monologues ready to go, just say the word.)
- I basically loathe all of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s shows except Evita (absolutely sublime, and I’m sorry, Madonna CRUSHED it in the movie and Ricky Martin was the perfect Che in the revival) and Phantom (first time I heard the opening organ chords in a theater I lost my freakin’ mind).
- I’ve never actually seen a full production of Jesus Christ Superstar, but I have heard “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” at least seven times at every single community theater audition I’ve ever been to (weirdly, even at the ones that weren’t for musicals).
Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I can start in on this week’s Man Crush, the 39-year-old singer, songwriter, arranger and actor, John Legend. Did you know he was basically a child genius? He won the city-wide spelling bee in his hometown of Springfield, OH in the fourth grade, graduated high school at 16 (as Salutorian and Prom King; I genuinely didn’t know it was legal in most high schools to be both), and he went on to University of Pennsylvania to major in English. But it’s not just his brains that made him a child prodigy.
Legend has the kind of biopic movie-makers are dying to get the rights to. Born John Stephens, his father was a factory worker, his mother a seamstress and the church choir director with his grandmother, the church’s organist. At four, he begged for piano lessons. By the time he was seven, he was singing in the choir, and by 11, he led the choir. Once he started at UPenn, he founded the school’s best acapella group and was even featured for his rendition of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” on the 1998 Best of Collegiate Acapella competition CD. (Also, we probably shouldn’t discuss that I actually have this album on one of my Spotfiy playlists… for college acapella competitions)
He graduated in 1999, and although he made two different demos of his music, he actually worked full-time at the super smarty-pants consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group, as a management consultant. In 2001, he was introduced to a total unknown in the music scene, someone named Kanye West. They got along and Legend was asked to sing during some of his hooks, then he signed to West’s label, and acquired his stage name, which was gifted to him by the poet J. Ivy, “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 2003, he was introduced to Lauryn Hill and was hired to play piano for her song “Everything Is Everything.” He was even asked to audition for her band. While he was willing to drop out of college and go on tour, he actually wasn’t picked (that’s the sound of my jaw dropping). “When I was younger, I thought I was supposed to have a record deal by age 19 or 20,” Legend later told Joss Stone in Interview magazine. “When it didn’t happen, I would get frustrated, but I would keep working and progressing and making new songs and recording new demos. And I kept thinking these people are stupid, they should’ve signed me a long time ago.”
After years of making his own demos, collaborating with some of the greatest musicians in the world (Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z), and leading the choir at Bethel AME church outside of Philadelphia, he finally gained some recognition in 2008 when he recorded “Yes We Can” for presidential candidate, Barack Obama, and performed the song at the Democratic National Convention in July 2008 with the song’s producer will.i.am.
It’s not surprising he chose to support the nation’s first black president – he’s an avid supporter of activism and philanthropy around the world. In 2007, he was the spokesman for GQ’s “Gentlemen’s Fund” which raises support and awareness for five cornerstones essential to men (opportunity, health, education, environment and justice). He began The Show Me Campaign to help impoverished villages throughout Africa, doing more than just raising money so they can curb malaria by providing mosquito nets, offering children free meals at school, and helping to define safe water points, local clinics and better fertilizer to improve crop production. He also supports Gap’s Product Red, the ACLU and dozens of other progressive causes. In 2014, he won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for “Glory,” the song he co-wrote with Common, which was featured in the film, Selma.
Unfortunately for us, the man is married… but it’s to one of the coolest women on the planet, Chrissy Teigen, so we’ll learn to live with it. They have one daughter, Luna Simone, and announced in November that they’re expecting a second child. Personally, I think that in homage to his upcoming live theater debut, they should be looking towards biblical names for Baby #2: Ruth or Esther for a girl, maybe Peter or Simon for a boy?
Did you watch Jesus Christ Superstar on Sunday night? What did you think? Was it Legend-ary?