John Legend well on his way to legendary heights
By Raphael Sangiovanni
As the lights dimmed to deep blue in Jackie Gleason Theater on Nov. 10, R&B virtuoso John Legend’s piano lifted an anxious crowd onto its feet and into his world of music.
Packing a full band with back-up singers, guitarists, a keyboardist and drummer from Switzerland, named “Swiss Chris,” Legend introduced himself with kind humility. “I’m just happy to have my own album out,” he told fans and thanked them for their support. It was, however, a stark contrast to the confident conductor of soul that emerged as soon as he launched into his set.
Almost effortlessly, John Legend, born John Stephens got every body in the theater grooving with his smooth blend of neo-soul, R&B and hip-hop. While crowd favorites like “I Can Change” and “Alright” played out near CD perfect, it was the odd twisters that really impressed – such as the reggae remix of “Used To Love U” and the samba-flavored ending to “Ordinary People.”
Legend, named Best New Artist of 2005 by BET succeeded that night quite simply because he knows his audience and how to make damn-good music. Since 2003, he has worked with the Black Eyed Peas, Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Kanye West and even Britney Spears, either as a songwriter, pianist or vocalist.
But it was his debut album Get Lifted, currently approaching double platinum status, according to Music Week that introduced the world to Legend’s vision of music – one that fuses the soul of gospel and swagger of hip-hop with the sultriness of R&B.
Beautiful, flawed and always passionate, Get Lifted features tender piano over producer Kanye West’s bustling beats; and includes guest work by West on “Number One” and Snoop Dogg on “I Can Change.” The real star on the record is Legend’s jaw-dropping voice that swings like a pendulum between high, wailing zeal and low, hypnotizing vibrato.
When it came to performing his music live, without the comfort of special guests or processed beats Legend had no problems. Actually lifting his music far above the quality found on the CD, Legend proved why his name is more than just a handle, but rather a standard toward which he continues to strive.
His album, Get Lifted is in stores now. For more information you can visit www.johnlegend.com.