John Legend reveals trauma of losing child in Desert Island Discs

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Musician John Legend said he was “hesitant” to share photos of his late baby son, Jack, who was stillborn two years ago.

The black-and-white photos, posted on Instagram shortly after Legend and his wife, model Chrissy Teigen, suffered the stillbirth of their third child, were a way to reach out to other bereaved parents affected by this kind of sudden loss.

“I was hesitant to share it,” he explains in one BBC Radio 4 interview, “but I think Chrissy was really right. Far more people than anyone realize are going through this and they think they’re alone.

“It was a very powerful, wise decision by Chrissy to share it.”

Legend says some of the songs he’s written since are about dealing with loss and grief, “when you feel broken,” adding, “There’s no real comfort and you’re always going to feel that loss. It spreads kind of over time, so it doesn’t feel so heavy, but you’ll never forget it.”

Legend, who is presenter Lauren Laverne’s guest on Desert Island records Sunday morning, may otherwise appear to have led a charmed life. At age 43, he is a rare recipient of not only two Emmys and 12 Grammys, but also an Oscar, as well as a Tony for his work on Broadway, an achievement that entitles him to the prestigious acronym EGOT.

Musically talented from the age of four, when he began piano lessons in his hometown of Springfield, Ohio, Legend was also a gifted scholar who turned down a place at Harvard at 16 to attend the University of Pennsylvania, before briefly time became a high-flying management consultant, who immediately earned more than his father’s salary.

His switch back to music soon resulted in a stellar solo career, following early work with Kanye West. In 2021, he was invited to play at the inauguration of Joe Biden.

But Legend, who was born John Stephens to working-class parents, tells Laverne that his life has not been without its problems. Not only did he and Teigen lose a baby, he was also estranged from his mother, Phyllis, during his teenage years. The leader of the local church choir, she had become deeply depressed after her own mother’s death and spiraled into mental health and drug addiction.

“She dropped out of our lives for about a decade. That was all through adolescence into my early adulthood,” says Legend. A seamstress as well as a singer, his mother had homeschooled the young Legend and prioritized his religious education.

“It’s still emotional when I talk to my mom about it, because she regrets so much that she was gone all that time,” the singer admits, recalling how difficult it was for his siblings and his factory worker father, Ronald, while she was absent. .

“During that decade she was out of our lives. We had to figure things out.”

The legend also explains his “rather presumptuous” invented stage name. When friends started calling him “legend” because they felt his voice channeled the great soul singers, he decided to run with it.

“You know what? Who knows what’s going to happen with my career, but I’m going into it with faith in myself and faith in myself that it’s going to work out,” he said. “And I’m going to try to live up to this name.”

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