Singer John Legend was born John Roger Stephens in 1978 in Springfield, Ohio. He was always interested in some type of music and sang all the way through grammar school, high school and college. And it was there during undergrad that he met songstress Lauryn Hill that gave him the first introduction to the music business.
Legend sang on Jay-Z’s “Encore”, backing vocals on Alicia Keys’ 2003 song “You Don’t Know My Name,” and even played piano on Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything.”
Unbeknownst to John, and his family, he is descended from two generations of slaves—a father and a son—who were freed at the same time and by the same person before 1850.
As his fourth and fifth great grandfathers, they were born slaves, and they died as free men, well before the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 freed all of the slaves.
That tidbit of family history has weaved itself into every aspect of who John Legend is today: father, singer, husband and activist.
“I had been singing my whole life,” Legend tells Complex. “I had been performing in front of people starting around six or seven years old. I was playing the piano when I was three; writing songs when I was ten. I had a lot of experience before I got to college. I knew I wanted to be a singer, so anyone who met me, I didn’t let too much time pass before I showed my talent.”
At first, being homeschooled by his mom during grammar school, John was considered a childhood prodigy. He entered high school and graduated salutatorian at age 16. Then graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania.
“I was trying to get a record deal when I was eighteen. I didn’t get one until I was 25, but I was in that mode of trying when I was a sophomore in college. I made sure I pursued this to the fullest. I spent so much time working on it that I felt it was bound to happen. People told me ‘No’—I got turned down by every major record label, including Sony, who I’m signed to now.”
Over the years, Legend’s style of music has changed, even the way he approaches making music.
“Beauty is the goal. I want it to be beautiful, whatever that means. I want you to feel it and have some sort of revelation. I want you to get chills.”
The 40-year-old singer and wife Chrissy Tiegen have created something beautiful together in their first daughter, Luna.
“She looks like both of us,” admits Legend. “It’s unclear what her personality’s going to be like, but she’s a lot of fun right now. Her energy’s really great, and she smiles and giggles a lot.”
“More personally, being a parent is “a beautiful thing,” continues John. “Obviously, we’re not the only people to have felt this. But there’s something special about that feeling, knowing that you two as a couple have created something that will always be a reflection of your love and union.”