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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 5, 2006

Getting lifted

 •  Waikiki concert, military parade salute the troops

By Steve Jones
USA Today

John Legend, who won three Grammy awards in February, will make his Island debut in Saturday's "A Salute to Our Troops" concert in Kapi'olani Park.

Gannett News Service

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Legend’s Grammy-winning "Get Lifted" album made the 27-year-old one of the most-sought-after R&B performers around. Kanye West helped produce that album and will be involved in the next one.

Gannett News Service

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Last month it was hip-hop megastar and Grammy winner Kanye West in concert at the Blaisdell Arena. This weekend, another Grammy winner and a friend-of-Kanye, John Legend, performs in a very different venue in Honolulu — as the headliner in Saturday's "A Salute to Our Troops" concert at Kapi'olani Park.

Legend's Grammys were for best new artist, best male R&B performance and best R&B album (for "Get Lifted"), bestowed in February. In an interview during the Grammys hoopla, he talked about "Get Lifted," his approach to music, and his next CD (expected out in the fall).

John Legend had an inkling that he might have a big day when the Grammy Award nominations were announced in December. Legend was among the presenters onstage at New York's Gotham Hall for the ceremony and heard his name in a couple of unexpected categories.

It wasn't until the R&B newcomer left the stage that he learned that he had tied with Mariah Carey and good friend Kanye West for the most nominations, with eight for his album "Get Lifted."

"I was floored. I couldn't believe it," Legend said.

"Get Lifted" was the first album on Kanye West's G.O.O.D. (Getting Out Our Dreams) Music label when it was released in the last week of 2004. West was the executive producer and produced four tracks.

Legend said he will be working with West again for his next album, but that he'll also seek out other producers and musicians. He said he is more concerned with the music that's made than the names attached to it.

He started writing several songs while he was traveling — nonstop for a year and a half, as an opening act on West's College Dropout tour and Alicia Keys' Diary tour before becoming a headliner.

But, he said, he needs the pressure of the studio, where "time is money," to actually finish them. He said he puts a lot of effort into crafting his songs, not only pulling together clever and meaningful lyrics, but also paying close attention to the melody and how the song flows. He called himself a student of songwriting and finds much of the R&B he hears unsatisfying.

"A lot of people have a good beat and a good hook, which is good enough to get on the radio, but it's not enough to make it a repeat listen," he said. His album will have "more real talk. I just want to tell people the truth."

Legend said he'd like to learn the guitar because it might help him grow as an artist, but for now, "that's one of those New Year's resolutions that you never get done." Still, he said "it would give me more ideas. You write differently depending on the instrument. A guitar is more portable and more earthy in some ways, and it might inspire me to go in different directions."

Legend, 27, of Springfield, Ohio, comes from a musically talented family — 15 members of the Stephens family (his real surname) appear on the first album's "It Don't Have to Change" — and he has been playing piano and singing since he was a child. While at the University of Pennsylvania, he was part of an a cappella group and began working as choir director at Bethel A.M.E. Church outside Philadelphia.

He also began playing clubs and open-mike shows up and down the East Coast, selling his independently produced CDs "John Stephens" (2000) and "Live at Jimmy's Uptown" (2001).

His college roommate and collaborator, Devo Harris, introduced him to his cousin, West, and Legend's career started to take off.

He co-wrote, played and sang on Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You" and co-wrote and played on Janet Jackson's "I Want You." He also played and sang on Jay-Z's "Encore" and "Lucifer," tracks from "The Black Album," produced by West.

He also has worked with Britney Spears, Eve, Common and Slum Village, and was all over West's "College Dropout" before his own major-label debut.

While there are no real socially conscious songs on "Get Lifted," a contrast to his sometimes outspoken and controversial mentor West, Legend did write extensively and thoughtfully about the response to Hurricane Katrina and other issues in an ongoing diary at www.johnlegend.com.

"I felt like that the songs that I had that were more socially conscious just didn't fit with the rest of the album, so I let the album be what it was," he says.