John Legend: From “Ordinary People” to “Jesus Christ Superstar” – The Unlikeliest Of EGOTS

The first time John Stephens’ name appeared on a professional music credit was as a pianist on a song from the landmark 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.  The song was “Everything Is Everything,” the third single released from the record-setting Grammy-winning LP.

John Legend as Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

If someone had told you then that not only would that album be the last studio release for Lauryn Hill, but that the little-known 19-year-old pianist on “Everything” would adopt the name Legend and 20 years later go on to become an EGOT – an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award-winning singer/songwriter/musician/producer, you would have asked what brand of ‘90s ganja they were smoking.

Yet that is exactly what has happened.  Hill is commemorating her lone studio album’s 20th anniversary with a North American concert tour, and John Legend is celebrating his newly minted status as an EGOT, the “grand slam” of American show business recognition, which came by way of an Emmy win this past weekend for his role in producing the highly acclaimed “Jesus Christ Superstar – Live In Concert,” which aired on NBC-TV on April Fool’s Day earlier this year.

“Jesus Christ Superstar – Live In Concert,” – Did it make you a believer?

Legend’s Emmy completed the EGOT puzzle that already included 10 Grammy awards, including Best New Artist 2005, plus an Oscar for Best Original Song (“Glory” from the movie Selma) and a Tony Award for co-producing Jitney – a 2017 play set in a worn-down Pittsburgh cab station – for the Broadway stage.

Legend was joined in the EGOT club by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice – who created the play Jesus Christ Superstar.  The three became the 13th, 14th and 15th members by way of their simultaneous Outstanding Variety Special (Live) Emmy win.

But Legend is the first black man to achieve the honor and is probably the least likely considering his humble entry into show biz.

After the work of Lauryn Hill’s album, his career slowly took off in the early 2000s with backup singing contributions to hits by Jay-Z (“Encore”), Alicia Keys (“You Don’t Know My Name”), and Dilated Peoples (“This Way”), among others.

It was a connection with Kanye West – himself an up-and-coming rapper and producer in 2004 – that set Legend’s career into motion with his début album Get Lifted, featuring the breakthrough hit “Ordinary People,” the second single released from the album after the moderate reception to its first “Used To Love U.”  “Ordinary People” showcased Legend’s unique baritone vocal style and earned him his first Grammy for Best R&B Male Vocal in the 2006 ceremony.

His career continued to flourish throughout the 2000s with memorable hits like “Save Room,” and “Green Light” (featuring André 3000).  Then it went into orbit with the defining single “All of Me,” the pop ballad that spent a year on the charts and became Legend’s first No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts in 2014.

Yet at that point, aside from multiple Soul Train, MTV, BET, Billboard and NAACP Image Awards, the only major industry awards on his mantle were the Grammys.

It wasn’t until 2015’s “Glory” with rapper Common that the other three pieces to the EGOT puzzle came into view.  The singer took home the Oscar for Best Original Song from a motion picture that year.  Two years later, Jitney earned Legend his Tony Award.

The Crucifixion scene in Jesus Christ Superstar and John Legend

When “Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert” aired on NBC in April 2018, many speculated that Legend, who played the lead character of Jesus, might reach EGOT status with his acting nod (he’s still up for that award when the Primetime Emmy awards take place next week).  Yet it was his production work that earned him the honor.

However he got there, John Legend – a 39-year-old singer and songwriter whose earliest musical alignment was with hip-hop artists, whose lone Broadway entry is a play about a Jitney in Pittsburgh, whose Oscar is tied to a film about the Deep South during the Civil Rights Era and whose first TV acting nod was as Black Jesus in a reboot of a nearly 50-year-old rock opera – is arguably the unlikeliest of EGOTS.

Here are the 15 people to have achieved EGOT status in the history of the Emmys, Grammys, Oscars and Tonys:

  1. Richard Rodgers
  2. Helen Hayes
  3. Rita Moreno
  4. John Gielgud
  5. Audrey Hepburn
  6. Marvin Hamlisch
  7. Jonathan Tunick
  8. Mel Brooks
  9. Mike Nichols
  10. Whoopi Goldberg
  11. Scott Rudin
  12. Robert Lopez 
  13. John Legend
  14. Andrew Lloyd Webber 
  15. Tim Rice

John Legend joins Robert Lopez as the only two to win all four awards after 2000, and is the second-fastest to achieve the status from his first win to his completion award (12 years) behind Lopez (10 years).

Congratulations to John Legend on this outstanding achievement!

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