John Stephens, 28 December 1978, Springfield, Ohio, USA. Neo-soul singer-songwriter and pianist John Stephens spent a number of years behind the scenes, performing in small jazz clubs and hiring out his talents to other artists as a session player. Raised in Philadelphia, Stephens played piano for his local church and then studied English at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation Stephens began performing locally, with his first break coming when he was hired to play piano on Everything Is Everything on Lauryn Hills acclaimed 1998 solo debut, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. He began recording in 2000 with a self-titled album, the first in a series of low-key, independent releases that reflected his club sets. He enjoyed more success during this period as a songwriter and session pianist and vocalist, working with Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas, Common, Jay-Z, Twista, Janet Jackson, Talib Kweli and Slum Village, among others. His most notable work was in collaboration with Kanye West, performing and co-writing two tracks on the rappers acclaimed 2004 debut, The College Dropout.
In late 2003, Stephens signed to Wests Sony-affiliated production company KonMan Entertainment and began preparing his major label debut. Adopting the new moniker John Legend, he toughened up his slick old school soul sound with some discreet beats and reworked a number of his old tracks for inclusion on the album. The new image proved a success with Get Lifted reaching the upper regions of the US charts at the start of 2005, and the singles Ordinary People and So High proving enduring hits. The following year Legend picked up three Grammy Awards, in the Best R&B Album, Best R&B Male Vocal Performance (Ordinary People), and Best New Artist categories.
Legend made further guest appearances on albums by West (Late Registration, Graduation), Fergie and Big And Rich, in between completing work on his new album. Once Again (2006) was another solid collection that deviated little from the successful sound of its predecessor, and also achieved platinum sales status. Legend picked up two further Grammy Awards in 2007, in the Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group (Family Affair with Joss Stone and Van Hunt) and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (Heaven) categories.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.