John Legend produced his first album more than 20 years ago, but does he write his own songs?
John Legend does write his own songs. The artist includes writing from others on his albums but it is known that he has made at least some contributions of lyrics from his own creative mind.
Now let’s further explore how John Legend established himself in the music business and where he gets his lyrical inspiration from.
The Beginnings of John Legend
John Legend, whose real name is John Roger Stephens, was born on December 28, 1978, in Springfield Ohio. His parents, Phyllis Elaine, was a seamstress, and his father, Ronald Lamar Stephens, was a factory worker.
Legend’s parents were musical. His father played the drums and his mother “sang and directed the church choir.” His parents divorced for a period of 12 years but eventually reunited.
As a young child, Legend didn’t attend school and was instead homeschooled by his mother. The young Legend followed in his parents’ musical footsteps, and began playing the piano when he was 4 years old. At 7 years old, he started to perform with his church’s choir.
Aside from Legend’s musical talents, he was also gifted academically and skipped two grades. When he was 12, Legend attended Springfield North High School, where he graduated as the salutatorian of his class, aged 16.
He was offered admission to Harvard University, as well as scholarships to Georgetown University and Morehouse College but ended up going to the University of Pennsylvania to study English with an emphasis on African-American literature.
While at college, Legend was elected president and musical director of the co-ed jazz and pop a cappella group “The Counterparts.”
The group recorded a version of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us,” and received critical acclaim, with Legend singing the lead vocals. The song scored a place on the Best of Collegiate a Cappella compilation CD in 1998.
Still at college, Legend met renowned artist Lauryn Hill. She asked him to play piano for the song “Everything Is Everything,” which appeared on her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
After graduating from college in 1999, Legend got a job as a management consultant in a field unrelated to music. However, he used his spare time to begin producing, writing, and recording his own music.
He eventually released two albums independent of a record label. His first album was a self-titled demo, released in 2000, and subsequent album, Live at Jimmy’s Uptown (2001).
In 2001, Legend met Kanye West, who was new on the hip-hop music scene at the time. West employed Legend to sing hooks for some of his tracks.
Legend then signed to Kanye West’s label and decided that he needed to change his name to one more compatible with show business. He eventually settled with “John Legend.”
It was poet J. Ivy that gave him the idea by telling Legend, “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.”
John Legend was named “Sexiest Man Alive,” in 2019
What inspires John Legend’s lyrical content?
When asked about his creative process, Legend answered, “I never have a plan when I’m going into the songwriting process.”
He continued, “I have, ‘Oh, here’s some people I’d like to work with this time.’ Or ‘I’ve been listening to this particular album, let me reach out to this producer because I like what he did.”
The artist explained that he never knows what lyrics will be imagined when he works with another writer, saying, “When I’m writing for an album, I truly go into it open-minded. I’m figuring out who I am and where I am in this moment in my life.”
Does John Legend contribute lyrics to all his songs?
For many of his songs, Legend is included on the writing credits of the track. However, there are some songs where his name does not appear, meaning that he had no creative input on the lyrical content.
For example, “Aim High,” which appears on the deluxe version of Love in the Future (2013), was written purely by Pharell Williams.