When he burst onto the scene in 2004 with the release of his debut album, Get Lifted on G.O.O.D. Music, fans would have never predicted that the singer-songwriter would go on to actually become a Legend. The singer has 10 Grammy Awards under his belt, a Tony for producing the hit Broadway play, Jitney and an Academy Award for “Glory” from the film, Selma.
In addition to his many accolades for his music, John Legend is becoming more and more known for his activism and his outspoken voice against racism in the United States.
Born John Stephens in Springfield, Ohio he graduated from high school at the age of 16 and was the class salutatorian. Having learned to play the piano at seven years old, he often performed with his church choir. After being accepted to Harvard and Morehouse, he chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania where he majored in English with a concentration in African American Literature. While in college, Legend was introduced to Lauryn Hill and later played keys on her song, “Everything is Everything” from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Legend was signed to G.O.O.D. Music and his debut album went gold. But, it’s his features on Kanye’s (and others) songs that made him a staple of hip-hop fans as well as a favorite of R&B. John Legend has had a powerful 15-year career where he eventually moved into production of plays as well as television shows like, Underground.
As a Philanthropist, John Legend has given dozens of free performances, signed his name to United Nations resolutions, and serves on the boards of Teach for America, Harlem Village Academies, and The Education Equality Project. Since the election of Donald Trump, Legend and his wife, Chrissy Teigen have both been outspoken against the President’s racist policies while trying to stay optimistic. In 2017, he told TIME:
“I’m also heartened by the response that the American people have shown,” he says. “I’ve seen the activism on the street. I’ve participated in marches. I’ve seen really a surge of interest in the political system and how ordinary people can get involved in the political system and make change happen.”
Legend has also been outspoken against mandatory minimum prison sentencing and the prison industrial complex. In 2017, he told Teen Vogue:
“What we’re doing right now is radically terrible and radically punitive and inhumane – and we need to reverse course. We need to take the money that we’re investing in punishing people and locking people up, and reinvest it in building safer, healthier, more productive communities. I think it takes a bit of a philosophy to change as a society.”
During the JustLeadershipUSA “Power of the People Summit” in New York City, he was quoted as saying:
John Legend introduced an incredibly important aspect to the conversation: fixing the societal issues that lead to mass incarceration in the first place. “[We need] to look at poverty, to look at the conditions that lead to crime and say, how do we work on those as a community together, and start to alleviate those issues and make it so that we don’t have as many people getting in trouble in the first place,” Legend says. “And then, when they do get in trouble, we’re finding ways to help restore them and restore their communities rather than simply punish people.”
In 2015, John Legend founded FREE AMERICA, a multi-year culture campaign to change the national conversation about our country misguided policies and to transform America’s criminal justice system.
Learn more about FREE AMERICA and how you can get involved with this amazing venture by visiting the website here.