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John Legend
John Legend is living up to his name, with a repertoire that includes singing, songwriting, playing piano and producing songs for his own and othersí albums.

How A Legend Begins
John Legend (born John Stephens) started out like most R&B singers, singing gospel in church. Difference is, he became an in-demand studio session singer/artist before embarking on a solo career, working for a number of great artists. Today, he is counted as one of the hottest up and coming male R&B vocalists.

At the (embarrassingly) young age of four, Legend started playing piano with his grandmother, who would teach him at home. Within a year or so, he was part of his church choir. These beginnings would eventually shape both the sound and the lyrics of Legendís two albums. In addition to his gospel background, he also began listening to artists like Boyz II Men and LL Cool J, who brought both R&B and hip hop to the forefront for him.

Legend studied at the University of Pennsylvania where, between classes, most of his time went into making and recording music with his a cappella group Counterparts. After trying his hand at a life more ordinary, Legend began to realise that his dream of making it as a recording artist hadnít gone away. Things took a turn for the better when he moved to Philadelphia.

Breaking Through
Living in Philadelphia was crucial to Legendís career for a number of reasons. Not only did he begin performing here, but he was also exposed to new genres of music like neo-soul, and artists like Jill Scott and The Roots. Philly was also important because thatís where Legend met his roommate and ex-classmate from Penn, Devon Harris, who introduced him to his cousin, the man who would spark off Legendís career ~ Kanye West.

Legend spent a lot of time in the studios as a session artist. His first real claim to fame was playing piano on Lauryn Hillís Everything is Everything from the album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. The track won him much acclaim and is closest to his heart for being his first real breakthrough. After meeting West, it took a while before Legend eventually worked with him in the studio.

The first time Legend worked with West was on a few tracks that eventually made it Westís The College Dropout album. West returned the favour, of course, and laid down a few beats for Legendís demo. One of the tracks laid out was a sampling of Aretha Franklinís Til You Come Back To Me, which led to Legend writing Do What You Gotta Do. West played it for a few people who loved it, and Legend and West continued to work together.

Meanwhile, Legend kept on expanding his portfolio as a session artist. He lent his vocals to Alicia Keysís You Donít Know My Name from The Diary of Alicia Keys and If I Ainít Got You, a Kanye West remix from the same album. John was also lead singer and co-writer on The Boogie That B from the Black Eyed Peasí album Elephunk.

Getting Lifted
But his studio sessions apart, Legendís real work was picking, out of the multitudes of songs heíd compiled over the years, forty tracks to work on for his debut album. He did, and only a dozen of those tracks eventually made the final cut. Legend worked with West, shaping his sound and his music.

You can read the rest of our feature on John Legend in the January 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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