Our series “How I became a …” digs into the stories of accomplished and influential people, finding out how they got to where they are in their careers.
From his beginnings singing in the church to selling out stadiums across the globe, award-winning musician John Legend is no stranger to soulful melodies. When he’s not playing the piano, writing songs or performing on stage, Legend spends his time balancing fatherhood, coaching on NBC’s “The Voice,” engaging as a philanthropist and creating his wine brand LVE Wines.
USA TODAY caught up with Legend to talk about everything from vanilla cold brew and Aretha Franklin to years of hard work and the rosé he loves – which debuted this summer – from LVE Wines.
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Question: How did you get your start with music?
John Legend: I got it in the church mostly, but also at home. I started taking piano lessons when I was 4 years old, and I grew up with music all around the house and at the church. We spent a lot of time at church because my grandfather was the pastor, my grandmother was the church organist and my mother directed the church choir. I was in choir rehearsal with her a lot, and just soaked up a lot of music from a young age and was always very excited to play myself.
Q: How have you expanded to other ventures like “The Voice” and winemaking?
Legend: “The Voice” has been a natural extension of my music career and how I came up, since I was a choir director when I was young – I directed an a cappella group when I was in college – so I’ve been really used to working with vocalists for a long time. It’s always been a natural part of who I was and what I love to do. “The Voice” has been a great experience for me, just to work with new vocalists and help guide them into being the best artists they can be.
With the wine, it’s something that grew out of a personal enjoyment and passion for wine, and also believing that it went well with who I am and my music. It just felt like the right kind of chemistry between me, my music, and the wine – it just felt like the right thing. It’s been so much fun creating a wine brand, from blending and tasting and trying to get the best blends to designing and coming up with the best bottles. It’s just been a lot of fun to build the brand with my team.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
Legend: There are so many different ways it could work! It depends on if I’m home or on tour, but I usually wake up around 7. We have a gym in the house, so I work out here. The kids usually wake up around then, too, so I check in with them, see how they’re doing, maybe eat breakfast with them. I usually go to work around 11 or 12, maybe have a couple meetings, and then go to the studio to write. If I’m in the middle of filming “The Voice” I don’t go to the studio to write; I go to the television studio to make “The Voice.” Then, I come home and have dinner with my family. Once the kids go to bed, Chrissy and I have some wine and watch one of our favorite shows.
Q: How do you stay inspired to keep creating?
Legend: Part of it is because it’s so much fun. I actually really enjoy writing songs – I love the process, but I also love feeling like you’ve accomplished something new, you know? You go into the studio or into a writing session with nothing, and you come out a few hours later and you have something brand new that could change your life, change someone else’s life, could inspire people, could be a powerful, beautiful thing. It also could go nowhere and never make the album, but it’s still an exciting process of creating something new and seeing where it goes.
Q: What do you credit your success to?
Legend: It starts with having loved music for a long time and (having) practiced and performed for a long time, even when no one knew who I was. Doing it in church and in school, all those years of work and practice and performing, all of that stuff helped make me a better artist. That kind of explains the talent side of things, but I think it’s important to still have persistence, work with great people, and collaborate with great people – all of those things are important, too, and I think the combination of all that is what has made me a success.
Q: How do you balance work, life, and such a busy schedule?
Legend: I work hard, but I always set aside time for me and my family, and just me and Chrissy sometimes to go on a date or enjoy each other without the kids. I think all of that’s important, and you have to make time – it’s for your own sanity, for the health of your relationships, and it’s just important to rest. For me as a singer, it’s important for me to rest because my voice reflects it when I’m tired. My body reflects it when I’m tired. I try to get as much rest as possible, drink a lot of water, and take care of myself.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Legend: It’s about developing your talent first, but also working really hard, working with the right people, and working with people that help you grow and push you and make you better.
• What is your coffee order? I usually order it black – sometimes I have some black cold brew, and occasionally I’ll do a vanilla cold brew (a Chameleon type thing) with some vanilla almond milk.
• What is your favorite book? I have books that have been very meaningful and important to me, and one of them is “The New Jim Crow” (by Michelle Alexander), which really inspired a lot of my work around FreeAmerica and my nonprofit work.
• What is your favorite song of the moment? One of my favorites to listen to is “Daydreaming” by Aretha Franklin.
• What is your favorite wine from the LVE Collection? The rosé is definitely the one I have the most of right now, and the cabernet – that was my first love, the first varietal that we did.
• Who has been one of your biggest mentors? Kanye (West) would probably be the biggest, and Stevie Wonder.