(EXCERPT:) The 2012/2013 VanWezel season will feature three performers all sharing the same prestigious award. These three artists, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, and Natalie Cole have all won the Grammy Best New Artist Award. The first to appear on our stage will be the R & B “legend” John Legend.
Whether you call it “fate” or “destiny” or “a calling,” the fact is that some people are born to sing and create music. If you were to ask any of these three “legends” in the music business, chances are you would would get three variations on the idea that music is and always has been the artists’ most natural form of expression, and that at some early age they all expected to be “discovered.” That they all have fulfilled and even exceeded their childhood dreams and expectations, is a well accepted fact. It began over three decades ago when Natalie Cole was the first of the three to receive the Grammy Award for Best New Artist followed years later by Sheryl Crow and most recently John Legend.
The first of these stars to appear will be John Legend, on stage October 19. Natalie and Sheryl will be featured in a subsequent issue of this newsletter. But being first, John Legend gets today’s first billing.
John was a child prodigy, learning piano and vocalization at age 6. He was taught by his grandmother, a well respected gospel singer. He grew up singing in his church choir (which he subsequently directed for many years) and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he served as Choral Music Director. He graduated with a degree in English at age 20. Music was always the central theme of his life. “I thoroughly enjoyed the time when performing with the church and college choirs. I always enjoyed the feeling when people responded to my singing and playing. I was ambitious and just loved being on stage connecting with the audience.”
John went on to form an “a Capella” group called “Counterparts.” During this phase of his career, John played as a “session”musician and was a featured performer in New York nightclubs. It was as a performer that he caught the attention of producer Kanye West in 2003. He signed with Kanye and for the next year they worked to develop John’s debut album Get Lifted. It was released late in 2004 and immediately went platinum! Subsequently, his first album went on to win three Grammy Awards — Best Rhythm and Blues Song, Best R & B Album, and Best Traditional R & B Vocal. The year ended with John Legend being named the Grammy’s Best New Performer.
With Get Lifted, John demonstrated a rare ability to fuse the”feel”and “vibe” of classic old school soul music with the edgy flavor of 21st century hip-hop. While the romantic themes of traditional R & B permeate Legend’s work, there is also a street-worthy hipness and confidence: the sensuality of Marvin Gaye and the sincerity of Stevie Wonder merging with the directness of Snoop Dog and the wit of Kanye West. Yet John is very much his own artist, gifted with singular talents and a unique sensibility.
During this time John began using “Legend” after his name. “I was born into a musical family as John Stephens but was given the name because I sounded so much like an old school artist. At first I thought it was funny to be called ‘Legend’ but as every one began calling me that, I considered using it as my stage name. I knew that it sounded presumptuous, but I figured it would make me stand out from the pack. I figured it would make people pay attention to me….and once I had their attention I would hope to have them fall in love with my music. By being “John Legend” I put some pressure on myself, but I’m gonna try to live up to it and I hope my music will also live up to it”.
One listening to the soulful- yet-edgy Legend music establishes there’s no question that he indeed delivers the real deal, living up to his name and continuing on to the next chapter in a career filled with promise and possibility.
Editor’s note: While we emphasized John Legend as a performer we must add that he is most proud of his ability as a composer. He has written hundreds of songs performed by everyone from Michael Jackson, LL Cool J, Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, Brittany Spears, and Kanye West (to mention just a few). In his estimation, his crowning achievement was starting his writing career in 2002, when he was awarded one of five Songwriters Hall of Fame scholarships ….to be followed years later by his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame as an honored member!