Exclusive: Striking a chord with John Legend

The youngest EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) award-winning singer and writer speaks to Bazaar India at the Walkers & Co. tour by Johnnie Walker about collaborating with Indian-American artist Raja Kumari, and the legacy he wants to leave behind.

Harper's Bazaar India

You know him as an award-winning singer, a doting dad to three, and of course as the sexiest man in the world (back in 2019). The man, and the legend (quite literally) we're talking about is John Legend, an artist who continues to inspire people through his music. With each new track of his displaying the power of collaboration, co-creation, and community, it's no surprise to have seen him work his charm at the Walkers & Co tour by Johnnie Walker. 

The global sensation, in an exclusive interview with Bazaar India speaks about striking the perfect work-life balance, what gives him the strength to keep going, the legacy he looks to leave behind and much more.  

Nandini Bhalla: John, you have achieved so much in your life...Do you ever feel the pressure to live upto your name—Legend?
John Legend: My friends nicknamed me Legend in 2002... I never considered Legend as my stage name, but once I took it up, I knew there was a certain responsibility that came with the name. I enjoy the pressure; I want to live upto my name, and I strive to prove myself throughout my career.

NB: You were voted The Sexiest Man Alive... We want to know what you find desirable in a woman...
JL: My wife is very sexy...Chrissy is not just physically beautiful, but she makes me laugh, too. She is a great mother and cook, and I think she is incredibly smart and clever. I find all of these qualities attractive.

NB: You just had your third baby, Esti Maxine Stephens. Is it tough balancing work and family?
JL: It’s not easy, and on most days, it feels like a challenge. Bringing up children requires constant back and forth, and some tough conversations need to be had with oneself and your partner. I try my best to strike a balance because I want to be there for my family and watch my kids grow. My career involves a lot of travelling, but sometimes, I have to turn down requests so I can prioritise my personal life. When I am home, I make it a point to be consciously present and in the moment...I play with Miles (Theodore Stephens) in the backyard, or just paint and draw with Luna (Simone Stephens). I also like to drop my kids to school and experience their childhood.

NB: How does it feel to create an anthem (Keep Walking) for the Indian audience at the Walkers & Co. tour by Johnnie Walker?
JL: I loved composing the song with Raja Kumari; we wrote the lyrics in my studio in Los Angeles. She is wonderful, energetic, and very talented. Raja was brimming with energy when she visited the studio, and we had a lot of fun while composing the song. In fact, we recorded the track the very day we penned down the lyrics, and the result was beautiful. It fills me with such joy knowing that we both came together to create something for India.

NB: What’s on your playlist right now?
JL: Lately, I have been listening to a lot of hip-hop, especially from the ’90s and early 2000s. I also enjoy listening to classic rock, and some of my favourite artists are Kendrick Lamar and Leon Bridges.

NB: And what are your kids listening to these days?
JL: I’d like to believe that Miles is my biggest fan on the planet—because every track that he requests turns out to be my song! However, Luna has a slightly more diverse range, and she enjoys listening to quite a few female artists, including Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Selena Gomez, and Beyoncé, among others.

NB: You’ve been through your share of emotional ups and downs, including losing a baby. When life gets tough, what gives you the strength to keep going? 
JL: Despite all the curveballs that life throws our way, I believe it is imperative to develop resilience. I honed this inner strength while dealing with the hurdles that came about when my family fell apart. As a young man, I faced numerous challenges with my mother, and in hindsight, that painful experience made me and my siblings more independent. Sometimes, when people deal with severe trauma, their reaction isn’t always healthy. However, I do believe that we were able to respond to it by coming together as a family, and building a life we always dreamt of. Those moments of hardships have equipped me to face issues as an adult.

NB: Lastly, John, what legacy do you hope to leave behind?
JL: First of all, I feel so lucky that I make music for a living. I believe the legacy we build is defined by the work we do, and when we create music, it lives beyond our goes on forever. As an art form, music stands the test of time—and even when I am long gone, people might continue to listen to my music. That said, the other aspect of my legacy includes my kids... Chrissy and I want to continue to build our family. She and I often talk about how, some day, our kids are going to have their own children—who will be our grandchildren—and we will all spend time together at our Sunday dinners. The future is distant, but that’s the kind of a legacy we want to leave behind.