Grammy-winning R&B singer, songwriter, and pianist John Legend, born John Stephens, was a child prodigy who grew up in Ohio, where he began singing gospel and playing piano at the age of five. Stephens left his home state at 16 to attend college in Philadelphia, and it was there that he first found a larger audience. Not yet out of his teens, Stephens was tapped to play piano on Lauryn Hill's "Everything Is Everything," a Top 40 hit for the Fugees member's 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. After completing college, Stephens moved to New York, where he built a loyal following playing in nightclubs and releasing CDs, such as Live at Jimmy's Uptown (2001) and Live at SOB's (2003), that he sold at shows. He also became an in-demand session musician, playing and occasionally writing for a wide array of artists, including Alicia Keys, Twista, Janet Jackson, and Kanye West.
It wasn't until West signed the young talent to his G.O.O.D. Music label that the Legend name was fully adopted with 2004's Solo Sessions Vol. 1: Live at the Knitting Factory. Get Lifted, Legend's first studio album, was released that December. On the strength of enduring single "Ordinary People," the album reached the Top Five of the Billboard 200. This led to three Grammy Awards: Best R&B Album, Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, and Best New Artist. Once Again, which peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and at number one on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, followed in October 2006 and eventually went platinum. Live from Philadelphia, sold exclusively at Target stores, was a successful stopgap release -- a Top Ten album, despite its limited retail presence. October 2008's Evolver, a more pop-oriented set, spun off the sprightly crossover hit "Green Light" but managed only gold-selling status.
Legend started the following decade with another change of course. Wake Up!, in which he was backed by the Roots, was released in September 2010 with covers of still-relevant, socially aware songs like Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "Wake Up Everybody" and Donny Hathaway's "Little Ghetto Boy." It won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. After he toured with Sade, Legend collaborated with producers and writers including West and longtime creative partner Dave Tozer for Love in the Future, released in September 2013. It was his fifth consecutive release to peak within the Top Ten of the Billboard 200. Legend continued to add to his extensive discography as a featured artist. As of 2014, he has appeared on dozens of recordings by fellow artists, including will.i.am, Estelle, Sergio Mendes, Big & Rich, the Roots, Lupe Fiasco, Common, and Melanie Fiona. ~ Wade Kergan & Andy Kellman