A prodigious musical performer often tagged as neo-soul, John Legend (born John Roger Stephens on December 28th, 1978 in Springfield, OH) began learning piano and singing gospel tunes at age five. Upon finishing high school early (at age 16), Legend enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and caught his first taste of commercial success given his prominent appearance as a pianist on the 1998 Lauryn Hill tune "Everything Is Everything". After college, Legend moved to New York and struck gold in the Manhattan-area music scene, with session appearances on albums by artists including Kanye West (who gave Legend his stage name), Alicia Keys, and Janet Jackson; Legend's debut solo album, Get Lifted, emerged in late 2004 and made him an instant sensation. The immediate follow-ups -- 2006's Once Again and 2008's Evolver -- received equal acclaim. The majority of Legend's early on-camera appearances were, unsurprisingly, tied to his music. These included the concert films John Legend: Live at the House of Blues (2005), Tony Bennett: An American Classic (2006), and John Legend: Live from Philadelphia (2008). With the 2008 comedy Soul Men, however, Legend branched out into acting roles; he was cast opposite Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac as musician Marcus Hooks. Legend continued to straddle the music and film worlds, appearing on soundtracks, including winning an Academy Award (shared with Common) for Best Song for "Glory" from the film Selma (2014).
Biography by Nathan Southern
- Grew up in a musical family; began taking piano lessons and performing in church at a young age.
- Graduated from high school at age 16 and was salutatorian of his class.
- Served as choir director at Bethel AME Church in Scranton, PA, for nine years.
- At 19, played piano on Lauryn Hill's "Everything Is Everything," a key song on her 1998 CD The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
- Changed name from John Stephens to John Legend after friend and poet J. Ivy nicknamed him "The Legend" during a studio session.
- Did session work for a diverse roster of artists, including Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Janet Jackson and Kanye West.
- First album, Get Lifted, debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 in 2004.