Ohio-born John Legend is an award-winning, platinum-selling singer/songwriter. His work has garnered him ten Grammy Awards, an Oscar and a Golden Globe, among others. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied English and African-American literature, Legend participated in a wide range of musical activities while in college.

John Legend is one of the stars of the new film, “La La Land.” (Courtesy photo)

Legend’s debut album, “Get Lifted,” was released to critical acclaim in 2004. The album landed multiple Grammys, including Best R&B Album, Best New Artist and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. And earlier this year, Legend won his first Academy Award for “Glory,” a song he wrote and performed with Common for the film “Selma.”

He’s received the 2010 BET Humanitarian of the Year Award, the 2009 CARE

Humanitarian Award for Global Change, the 2009 Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award from Africare, and the 2011 Harvard Foundation Artist of the Year Award. Legend sits on the boards of The Education Equality Project, Teach for America, Stand for Children and the Harlem Village Academies.

Here, he shares his thoughts about playing his first, major movie role opposite Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in “La La Land,” a picture which he also executive produced. And he talks about his philanthropic work and his new album, “Darkness and Light,” as well.

KW: Let me start by asking what made you decide to do this film with Damien ?

JL: Well, it really started with meeting him as a filmmaker in my capacity as a producer, because my company, Get Lifted Film Company, has done a few movies and a couple of television shows now. We love meeting with up-and-coming directors who are doing great things. And, obviously, upon the success of “Whiplash,” Damien was someone we’d love to collaborate with.

KW: After watching the film, I was surprised to see that you have so few acting credits, because you did a phenomenal job.

JL: Thank you! I’d spent my whole career focused on music. Acting wasn’t something I was really pursuing, even though we were doing film and TV behind the camera as producers, because music takes up so much of my creative energy. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with such great people.

KW: What did you think of Justin Hurwitz’s score for “La La Land?” Did he  compose the songs you played in the movie?

JL: We wrote those together. He, Marius , Angelique and I. The four of us just sat in a room and played, and figured it out. Justin, obviously, was the composer for the rest of the film, and he’s wonderful. But since I always feel comfortable singing, that particular song [“Start a Fire”] worked, and made sense for the character I was playing.

Yet, it posed an interesting challenge, because you wanted the song to be good and represent a viable creative path, but you also wanted it to be a song Ryan’s character, Sebastian, wouldn’t want to play, given the storyline. So, it called for an interesting balance of making it a good, jazz-influenced tune you could hear on the radio while also making it something that represented too much of a departure for Sebastian.

KW: You consider yourself a feminist. Why should men feel as concerned as women about female issues and how men can advance women’s causes?

JL: First of all, because its the right thing to do. It’s fair, you have women in your family, women you work with, and women who are your friends. Why shouldn’t they have the same possibilities and opportunities as you? Why shouldn’t they live in a world where they are valued for what they contribute, and valued as much as men are for the same thing? Who wouldn’t want to live in that world? It doesn’t hurt men for women to do well, because it just makes the planet a better place. There’s more innovation, more creativity and more productivity in the world. All of our lives are improved when women have power, influence and opportunity.

KW: I’d like to congratulate you on your new album, Darkness and Light, which I’ve been listening to. It’s terrific.

JL: Thank you. I’m really proud of it. It’s funny being in La La Land mode today, since I’ve been in Darkness and Light mode for the past month, and I’ll be back into it for the next year or so.  It’s exciting to support this really beautiful film and to have a new album out at the same time.

KW: I’ve always been impressed by your incredible commitment to charity work. What has inspired you to do that?

JL: I’ve always thought that if I were successful in this career, I would have a lot of resources and a lot of influence, and that I would would want to use them to make the world a better place. Part of my making the world better involves creating great art, and part involves my being an activist and contributing directly to causes that improve people’s lives with my time, my money and my influence. I think that’s part of who I am and of who I always will be.

Kam Williams

Special to the AFRO