The American singer and songwriter John Legend has won two Emmys, 12 Grammys, an Oscar and a Tony award – making him one of only 16 living artists to have won all four honours. One of his songs, All of Me, written for his wife, the model Chrissy Teigen, has been streamed more than four billion times on digital platforms. He was born John Stephens in Springfield, Ohio into a musical family. His father played drums in church, where his mother conducted the choir. John took piano lessons from an early age and soon became involved in arranging music for the church. He attended university at the age of 16 and after graduating worked as a management consultant for four years, while pursuing his interest in music out of office hours. He signed his first record deal after working with Kanye West early in his career, and took on the stage name John Legend, releasing his first solo album in 2004. Alongside his musical career, he has acted on TV and film, including a role in the highly successful La La Land. He has performed at three Presidential inauguration ceremonies – for President Obama in 2009 and 2013, and for President Biden in 2021. John lives in the USA with his wife and their two children. DISC ONE: Here Comes the Sun by Nina Simone DISC TWO: They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) by Pete Rock & CL Smooth DISC THREE: Day Dreaming by Aretha Franklin DISC FOUR: Roc Boys (And the Winner is…) by Jay-Z DISC FIVE: As by Stevie Wonder DISC SIX: Love on Top by Beyonce DISC SEVEN: L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole DISC EIGHT: Superfly by Curtis Mayfield BOOK CHOICE: The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber & David Wengrow LUXURY ITEM: A piano CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Here Comes the Sun by Nina Simone Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Sarah Taylor
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Previously sounds music. Radio broadcasts, hello, I'm Lorna van, and this is the desert island discs. Podcast. Every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island and for right reasons? The me It is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. I the, I castaway this week is the singers songwriter john legend born John Stevens in springfield, ohio crew grew up
surrounded by music. His father played drums at the local pentecostal church, whilst his mother directed the choir and his grandmother played the organ john sang in the choir from the age of just seven music wasn't his first career path, though it was a management consultant in his early twenties, while trying to find his way at all in the evenings, the name legend was bestowed on him for his ability to channel the girl if so music and has become one of the most powerful voices american entertainment as a musician and a campaigner he's one of just sixteen living artists to earn the ultimate acronym egos with two emmys twelve grammy's, an oscar under tony award, all under his belt at the age of just fifteen. He won an essay competition sponsored by global, fast food chain in which he wrote. I plan to impact society by developing my own character and being a leader.
The community by example. I plan to use my social skills and my musical talents to be a positive role model for my fellow african americans, John legend. Welcome to desert island discs. Thank you for having me. You have created some absolute classic tracks. All of me this one that you wrote for your wife's got more than two billion views on youtube. Yeah I'm grateful honestly, you write songs and the process for me is almost always the same you're just sitting in a row, maybe with another person and maybe a couple people in the room, and you try to create something beautiful and you don't know, what's going to happen when you create it, but sometimes you stumble on something that is life. Changing and Allah is one of those songs for me and no in a moment, but when you ve got lightning in about here, you're holding it now, you don't you dont, know one because I m excited whenever I finish the song, so
like a similar level of excitement. Ok- and it's hard for me in the moment to know if this one is way more special, then the other hundreds of songs, that of written- So in that moment I'm not sure you know, I felt and I was happy with it. I thought it was a well written song. I changed a few lines in the subsequent days and we had started with aversion that had drums and a four on the floor drum pattern, and we just decided to keep it simple and stripped back, and it worked when I first day of her chrissy that your wife then little chrissy teigen, she cried. So that was a good sign and the more I played it for people. I just was getting the sense that this one wasn't just an good song was special and it turned out to be just that, like an ascii to choose eight discs today, someone he's life has featured music from the very beginning,
Has it been narrowing down your choices? You know it's hard to say these. eight songs. I would want to listen to forever, but these are devon. we ate songs and I love and several of them have real sentimental, meaning for me and were part of really important moments in my life and, of course, their artist that are incredible: an influential to me when I think we ve got both the tv, those things at least for the fast track. So let's get started disk number one. What have you chose in and why I have chosen here- comes the sun, the neatest simone version. Of course it's a great beetle song and it's been covered by many, including myself, but minas amounts version is very special to me. A maimed my daughter, Luna Simone after her, and I feel like if I'm on and deserted island and I wake up every morning to the song every day is gonna start
beautifully mean is the moon, and here comes the sun shone legend, as he said, important artists to use. Well it s a wonderful track. You actually covered her track feeling goods at the presidential inauguration right, you're, my radio january twenty twenty one. A lot of us were very pleased that the former president was the former president and we were feeling good feeling optimistic and I wanted to sing a song
want to capture that feeling on. What's it like playing a show like that, I mean it's, not your average gig. How do you prepare while it's cold first of all, extremely cold? So, still in the height of pandemic precaution. So there was no audience there, which is there, with the marine banned in me on piano in the freezing cold, I mean your fingers must have been seizing. They were freezing yeah. Let's go back to the beginning of your story. John then you were born into a very musical family. Nineteen, some eight, the second of four children through ronald and Phyllis, so grubbing up enough what you're, earliest musical memories of the family. I grew up singing him playing in charge, but even before that, I grew up around my mother, directing the choir and my grandmother playing the organ in church and I was at choir rehearsal in the womb, I like to say, yeah we just were raised in a house full of muse. We had a their drum kit there. I started taking piano lessons.
Three or four years old and started singing in the church choir when I was seven and I've always loved being in front of people singing, and I warn you that in the context of immediate you know you in a pentecostal savages church won't function is serving their celebrate. Raise urged elevatory, it's very charismatic in the pentecostal charge. The music is the soundtrack that kind of moves the service along, so it has to match the energy or even bring up the energy that kind of music. I was raised around any regional self music. I suppose it was indeed you know, and so many of our great saw artists come from that kind of tradition, and I'm no exception and you had your first piano lessons. And you were even on three four years old, she's, incredibly young. To start this is the most gorgeous photo view deep in concentration on the piano. Still, your first piano teacher.
her name was glorious smith and she was at a local music store in our neighbourhood and then my girl one mother? On my mother's side, she was our church, organist and so on sundays. After church, I would go to her house and we would have a meal, and sometimes she would show me how to play some of the songs she was playing at church. So I was getting a combination of classical training from mrs smith and gospel training from my grandmother, silicon it here's some more music, now, John, it's for second desk. Well, this song is pete rock and cl smooth. They reminisce over you, I Have a special place in my heart for early nineties hip hop the song they reminisce over you, it's a perfect song. I think, if you're on a desert island, because you're probably missing a lot of people, the song craft is just beautiful and the song never gets old. To me, I could listen to it all the time
the woods he around when you're sad about the baby, make a slide? The youngest kids wanting to hear it is, after ten years, without getting married in the house, listen positive or negative. The queen's was in the shop you bought, I'm going to do when they reminisce over you. The people seal smooth. They reminisce over you so John legend. I'd love to know, look at more about you
Parents sat phillotson, Ronald your dad was an assembly line work by day, but very creative. To still is, I think, what did he still making and to you and your growing? Oh, my father made everything. He was so good with his hands and he was mister fix it around the house and anything that was broken. He would try to fix it himself rather than call someone in, but he also made clothes and he painted and did portraits in pencil, and he would find anything he could build or create or car of around the house. He would do it. You must have grown up, surrounded by his creation to maybe you having them. Yes, so I would wear clothes that he made in my mother was a tailor as well, so both there would make close for us and we will wear them the charge that we have old pictures of us wearing the same You have already links matching classic that my parents made. They were very handy in and crafty around the house see you born in today,
It's a church going family John! Your mum was the choir director, as he mentioned your grandma's, that the church organist your dad playing drums. I wonder about the influence of growing up watching that group and someone taking charge of the musicians and how that influenced your career because I do always seem to have had a bird's eye view, a kind of produces eye and arrange his eye for the music that you've been making. I've been arranging music since I was very young, so I think, probably by the time I was ten or eleven, I was arranging for our church choir and I had numerous vocal groups. I was a part of when I was in middle school and high school, and so I've been understanding harmonies and arranging them for other vocalists for such a long time. I think that's helped me. Throughout my career, I've always had a sense for thinking about the whole picture. Thinking about how the whole thing is supposed to sound, what the drums need to do, what the guitar
to do what the strings need to do. What the vocalist need to do. All of the things I did as a kid were preparation for where I am now you are wholly skull, joining tell you were eleven now. Why did your parents decide to educate you that way they were very ledgers, and they wanted religious education for us and when there was kind of sheltered from the secular world and for a time they sent us to a private christian school that was based at a local church, but it got a little too pricey for them to afford, and so they decided rather than send us to public school. They would just bring us home and and teach us from the curriculum of the christian school. But my mom would teach us herself and she was a stay at home, mother and a quite a good teacher, even though she didn't have any formal training as a teacher in some ways it was a pretty conservative. Curriculum is taught. Creation is
Men, so I think I've got the least amount of good teaching in science sped up. Then I had to make up for that later in life. On my own, going to the library and independent study but yeah, it kind of had a conservative bent to it. Stuff you next piece of music? John number? Three: what are you going for a wreath of franklin now or either? Ringgan is one of the greatest artists of all time, where the greatest vocalists of all time and someone I've had a chance to be around and work with, and this is one of my favorite songs of hers is called daydreaming. It just takes. You, to a magical place. It's ethereal gorges her voice just floats on the track as truly one of my favorite lessons in the world.
Wine is not only the franklin and daydreaming John legendary to Franklin who, as you mentioned, you worked with an and spend time what was it like? I'm given the daunting task of being told to produce and read the franklin Boca which of course, is an honor. But, unlike what am I gonna tell eureka franklin about how to think this up I've always a life in the studio. Was she likes? A pseudo very warm see was later in her years, but she still
was amazing. She didn't require much coach from me Funnily enough, it all worked out as they worked out a gay, and you know she honestly. mind me of my maternal grandmother, alot, my grandmother played in a very similar style as her. My grandmother was all though, the daughter of a major preacher and when I was with red eyes felt like I was with a family member. Tell me more about your family story, your mum phyllis. Specifically, as he mentioned, you know she was home schooling, you, when you were young, she's, church, quiet director and worked as a seamstress, but you guys went through a very difficult, I miss family deserve a ten year period of estrangement and it was after her mother died. She you're! So this, maternal grandma I ve been talking about that was so influential for me and reminded me I have Aretha Aretha reminded me of her. She passed away,
at a very young age. He was in her late fifties. It was pretty shocking and devastating for their family, and my mother took a particularly hard. They were so close. They worked on the choir together and spent a lot of time together, and she became depressed and eventually out of love with my father, but also just disconnected from the family, for a while and when she laughed, she fell into drug abuse and and just gonna disappeared from our lives for about a decade honestly and she's, doing great now, she's a great grandmother, she's, a great mother and she's healthy now, but during that decade you know she was gone from our lives, and this was, you know, really important decade and our lives as it. Basically, my entire the lessons into my early adulthood and we had a kind of figure things out. We lived with our dad, we
Yeah figured out how to cook, for I am I mean you can do the chores and all the things that we needed to do to cut him. Make up for her absence is still emotional, and I talk to my mother about it because she feels such regret for having gone during that time. John. Let's a take a break for some more music. Your fourth choice today. What is it and why have you chosen it? The song is by josie. It's part, the american gangster album, which is what am I, David albums and one of jaycees best albums, though I think it's underrated and under under covered- and I just feel like he was in his bag and this album uses. molly at his best telling stories of him as a drug dealer. Growing up in brooklyn and and this particular song wrought boy and the winner is, I love the horn section on this on edges, rouses you and gets you ready for whatever you're about to do and so on
Is it a lot of times as my get ready for my show caught us on to get me going, and feeling good and like you know, I'm ready to take on the world, made one bank money back the multiple births and with all due respect, I think that if the brown paper bag, the magnitude of the nordic boys, the report about the first person who made the bright boy what a permanent place thanks to the same degree easy and rob boys and the winner is so john legit, despite what you were going for it, as a family? You exiled academically you of the place at harvard but chose to go to the university. pennsylvania to study English. You would just sixteen because, when you went into the formal schooling system haven't been home school you're a couple a great.
And maintain that leads. How did you fit in with everybody else? college. Two years you'll have different place. I didn't fit, he didn't it took allow, because I came from a small midwestern town, which was rare. Most of the kids were either from big cities are from suburbs of big cities and then- was materially less wealthy, then that most of my classmates growing up in a working class families with a factory worker as a dad, and then I was sixteen. I mean that two years at that age, you're laughing about it, but it's it's a when you're that age, it's a big mountain to climb, isn't it it's a big difference, and literally the first time I ever got on a plane was at age sixteen to visit penn's campus, so I get there and it's culture for me, but I think music was always my way of connecting with people, because I knew I could saying- and I knew I could play an if I just
was able to show people what I could do. They're kind of broke the ice where every other conversation and that's exactly what you did, I mean you, you joined in the college, acapella group hans and eventually became president in musical director thereof. For those of us who've seen the pitch perfects film series Did it competitive environment as it is it in the movies or they hope it up the movie by the person who made the book that inspired the film series pitch perfect, actually interviewed some of my friends that were at the acapella group with me, and so it's loosely storm based on a real live and I was in charge after a while- I the last two years and in college I led the group and arranged allow the focus for the groups who again, although arranging experience as a kid, was paying off their and continue to pay off into my later. Life The idea of singing in a group being voice among voices is very powerful. Do you message you missed?
an inquiry is now I like waiting for. After university journey, you spent three years with a prestigious boston couldn't sultan green as a management consultant in new york. What was in your interest, I wonder, are works where the financial services client or where the big media and entertainment conglomerate. We did all kinds of different projects, the kids they take straight out of college they kind of, make them generalists and they get involved in all sorts of things. You don't sound massively enthused by it were. You is very sexy where you know the ego, it's all very well, but I believe you are known as king of the excel spreadsheet. Back I dunno. If I was king, but I was pretty good at it and better than most musicians. I would reckon it was never going to be long term plan, for you, though, was that I didn't want it to be, and it was a really good job. It offered me quite a lot of money for me at that time. I was already making more than my dad made ever as a yearly salary from the first year, but at night I would just
find ways to work on music. Let's get back to the he's avenger legend number five. What are we gonna hear this purses? Basically my muse godfather and huge influence to me, a friend And someone who have got the chance to collaborate with and spend time with in He was even at our wedding when we got married and and saying an impromptu saw, on the piano stevie wonder this: is the song he sang at our wedding, but it's one of my favorite songs and it's a great wedding song, because it's about telling someone your love them forever. It's called as me,
now a myth what a happy day stevie wonder and ass, not the song john legend that he played out your wedding. So what was he got up there and decided to sing a song impromptu and it was written in the sky that was pretty beautiful when it came to the wet anyone's. How much say if you haven't the music that was going to be well, we had a we didn't. Have we didn't have a live band? I was going to only sing a couple of songs on the piano at the reception. So I saying stay with you. And all of me, and I was the first time I played all of me live in front of anyone, but then colony goes up the stevie wonder, and once I commenced, if you aren't, you sing a song, it took you about four and a half years. I think
two graduation before you finally broke through you sang and played your neck kanye west's debut studio album and he was working on your tracks simultaneously. You know, you'd been making music together for a little while and that led to an explosion of interest from major labels and to your debut album get lifted that was released not long later. You also changed your name back then from John Stevens, which he'd been working on quite happily to john legend, which is a bold move. So so tell me about choosing the surname and decided to go for it whoa. I didn't use the surname? It kind of shows me, but one of our food and his name was J ivy and he's a great spoken word artists from Chicago. He started Let me the legend. My voice reminded him of those classic artist that we grew up listening to and colleagues. It often use me instead of using samples from that,
classic era which is used my voice instead and I think J ivy took them and start to call me the legend. Because of that, and then after a while them playing with that name there like May you issues is called subject legend but has also you know quite presumptuous as well to call yourself a legend before you even have gotten a recording, and so I decided you know what who knows what's going to happen with my career, but I'm going into it with the faith in myself and the belief in myself that is going to work out and I'm going to try to live up to this name, and so that's what I tried to as well as all of your music success. You ve got a numerous strings, turbot in more some years film production alongside your music grieved and acting. You place
forcing Roland lala alarm play Jesus Jesus Christ, Superstar- and I mentioned your acronym- that's elusive state, as you have just Sixteen people with eager state as set to end these twelve grammy's, an oscar tony all on your of trophy shelf. Mantelpiece. but in a way he keeps so many. What does that mean to? I am grateful to all of those were very collaborative projects where we know we produced Jesus Christ Superstar- and I was part of that. as Jesus Christ. We want in any, for we want it with sir agitated eber insert timber eyes, so that was an honour to be with them. when they won there. You got as well. We wanted the same day, lousy, mme stanchion, next piece of music. John legend number six, this but was played at our wedding. Multiple times bismarck, he was our dj and wages felt like this was the anthem,
our wedding, it's about celebrating love and commitment to each other and its by one of the greatest areas on the planet beyond, say the so called love on top yeah beyond, say and love on top Jonah want to take a second just. Looking back at your fifteen year old self, I quoted the essay The beginning of the programme, which I know you remember you John Stevens back then you won the mcdonald's black history- may of tomorrow essay competition. Saint use, my social skills
see my musical tonnes to be a positive role model. For my fellow african american, I envisage a successful he's career that will allow me to obtain high visibility in the community. This, in turn, will put me in a position of great influence, which I will utilise in order to be an advocate for the advancement of blacks in america. Do you think you ve lived up to your own teenage self exe? taken. It's amazing. Reading there I hadn't ready for such a long time, and I almost forgot about it. My dad read it me and brought it back up to me and we were just me laying at how much my life has taken that path. Now is kid in ohio that hadn't even flown anywhere yet so now I'm seeing the world I m just doing things I would never have thought were possible. So well what a journey it's been! You fancy cos
we'll get to see glimpses of your family life or on your social media feed anna unknown crises to but back in june, twenty twenty shed, some very different photographs and very personal photographs. Am your third child jack was still born at twenty weeks and both decided to share a black and white photos of your loss on instagram net. We dont often hear about it. losses in this grief from afar this perspective, how did you cope? How did you get through and what was it like? Telling? A story to the world in that way, or that was if a card- and I was hesitant to share it- but I think chrissy was really right in encouraging us to share it, because I think they really was powerful for a lot. people on and weigh more people than anybody realises go through this, and I think
they feel alone a lot of times. They told us they felt alone a lot of times and us sharing our experience, help people feel less alone and feel like there were other people going through it and that there was a community of people going through it, and I think it was a really powerful, wise decision by chrissie to share because it helped a lot of people and veal. Most reason I: could your music has been an outlet for what you went through a little beer, and so some of the songs are about coping with loss. You know and grief and when the I broken and those experiences. I was able to channel into the music. Did you see him
three to know tee and telling their story. There was such a wonder, lord of love, and will you know we ve talked dad's that we ve been friends within that we know who ve gone to. It said he wanted to talk to someone they knew they could talk to us about it. It's hard it's hard to try to comfort anyone, that's going to it, because there is no real comfort and you always going to feel that laws. A kind of spreads over time, so it doesn't feel is heavy overtime, but you ll never forget it. Let's have some music john mitya seventh choice today. What have you got for? Well, my dad used to the nat king cole around the house, quite a lie and I would say: nat. King cole is one of my biggest vocal influences and he was just such an interesting person in his life. He so Marty hosted a television show when black men were not on
television at all in america he was just a phenomenal human being, and my wife and I love singing the song to each other s card l, o b e health just model we added his forty. Only one c, p is very, very strong. There is more than eighty one that you do. Can love is to night ankles, spelling out o of E. While John, I have to say, the time is almost upon us. We were about to be cast away to the desert and it's time to think about how you'll get on their. How are your practical skills, obviously as a
wanna those hands worth fortune, but could you got the shelter when stranded I wish I had my dad. I told you he was such a good handyman. He could put anything together and I'm the opposite. I have a devoted, no, energy, to learning how to behave the man: what's it vital hoping for then? What do you imagine with some amenities, while ok, there's gonna, be a rude awakening and obviously you'll be away from all of it from the work shadow from your family, your fans complete solitudes. How do you feel about that idea? I don't feel good about it. Maybe I'll write some beautiful songs. I guess I'll have plenty of time to figure it out and plenty of inspiration, courtesy desk one more to go before I send you away. Of course, your final choice today was going to be this
was playing when my daughter was born, so our first born Luna Simone named after nina simone so to book, and this playlist this is the sound, was playing when she literally came out of the room, and I was in charge of dj there soundtrack to my wives. Pushing- and this was this that happened to be playing when delivery process culminating it was curtis, mayfield, superfly and in honour of my wife. Then all she's gone through to give us children and my daughter lowness among his superfly.
By one of the greatest challenges of our time, the man had not the courage to me an superfly, so journalists It's time to cast you away to the island, I'm giving you the books, the bible, on the complete works of shakespeare, to take with you. You can have another book as well, though. What would you like? Well, I decided to pick a book that I haven't finished reading it, but I just started and I feel work
this deserted islands going to give me time to finish it. It's a pretty thick book. It's called the dawn of everything and it's by a David graber and David when grow This book explores human history and a kind of puts a new lands on human history and says some of our son chins about what our ancestors were like I've been wrong all this time in So I want to learn more about that and I feel like in this time of solitude, it'd, be interesting to learn more about history and in how we came to be where we are. You can also have a luxury item will that be I've decided. I want to bring my piano, I feel like it's aquarium and a large, extravagant luxury item, but I mean for obvious reasons: it could be quite useful playing it, obviously, but players. The obvious reasons I mean I would write songs and I figure I could write a lot of songs in that time. That's yours!
and finally, which track of the aid that you ve shared with us today. Would you rush to save from the waves if you had to oh? How do I decide I'm goin to go with nina simone. Here comes a son. I need to start every morning with it and it will instantly lift my man John legend. Thank you very much for letting us he your does island S. Virtue. The the we ve castaway many musicians to our island, and there are more than two thousand programmes in our archived that you can listen to if you search through BBC sound
or on our own desert island discs website. Fine louis Armstrong there, along with Paul macartney Keith richard stew, in some time and adapt the studio manager for two days ground was John Poland. The assistant producer was christine Pavlovsk II and the producer with Sarah Taylor. the.
Transcript generated on 2022-09-07.