A Conversation with John Legend

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Since 2006, when he was nominated for eight Grammys and won three, including the Grammy for Best New Artist, John Legend has been writing seriously great songs and making compelling records. Whether writing alone, or with a collaborator, he’s always aimed for the kind of song that entranced him growing up. Here he talks about that kind of song, and how he goes about writing new ones.

What kind of music did you like growing up.

I was on a pretty steady diet of gospel and soul. That is what I knew as a kid. But as I got a little bit older I started listening to more jazz, more rock, more indie, a wider range of stuff. But as a kid it was a pretty steady diet of gospel and soul.

When you say gospel and soul – you mean R&B and Motown. Yeah. So when it came to gospel, there was some contemporary gospel and then also the classics like James Cleveland and stuff like that. When it came to soul, my dad was a big Motown fan. He loves the Temptations and Stevie and the Jackson 5, ’cause that is what he grew up on. Smokey Robinson and all that stuff.

He grew up in Ohio, just south of Michigan. And they always had a love of that whole Motown sensibility. They loved that whole style. So he imparted that on us.

I can see that in your work – a great groove matched always with a great melody.

Yeah, I think Smokey and Stevie and Marvin Gaye are a few of the writers I’ve always looked up to. And stylistically, I think of them a lot. 

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