Written by Washington Post Express contributor Alfredo Flores
Photo by Vincent Peters
IF JOHN LEGEND WAS your boyfriend, he'd want to slow dance and he doesn't care who sees this public displays of affection. And if that weren't enough, his favorite love song is about spending time with you — in the morning. At least that's the scenario he presents on "Good Morning," off of his latest CD, "Evolver." "Yeah, that song is pretty self-explanatory," said Legend in a husky morning baritone. "It's a real-life song — a lot of people know what I'm talking about — and I think that's why people like it a lot." Legend's live shows highlight the romance, packed with moments where he steps away from his grand piano to dance with female audience members, goes down on one knee while serenading senoritas and gives them roses, hugs and kisses on the cheek. Legend's songs are about love, lovemaking and heartbreak, every one exposing intimate details. "They're about personal experience, just living, experiencing life," he said. "I try to tell a story in my songs that people can relate to." Legend's breakout single, 2005's narrative ballad "Ordinary People," was just that — a song about everyday emotion and love and how it falters, how hard it is to keep strong. Other "Evolver" songs depict pursuing an elusive girl ("Green Light" featuring Outkast's Andre 3000); giving up his previous playboy ways ("This Time"); getting dumped, but in a good way ("It's Over," with Kanye West); and finding his one true love ("No Other Love," showcasing U.K. singer Estelle, who tours with Legend). But in addition to his smooth vocals, bravado and style, there's plenty of substance to Legend's craft — and to him as a person. His various philanthropic efforts include the Show Me Campaign to fight poverty through fostering sustainable development in Africa, where he's adopted the village of Mbola in western Tanzania. And during the Democratic National Convention this summer he performed the resounding debut of his Barack Obama-inspired "If You're Out There" — a call-to-action anthem, which discusses poverty and what young people, such as Legend, 29, can do about it, while also putting pressure on politicians to make a difference. "It was great to be there for such a historic moment," he said. "To be part of it was an honor. I felt the song was really appropriate for the moment that we're in and I was really happy to perform it there." Legend was born John Stephens, and taking a stage name such as Legend is bold. But it's not arrogance on JL's part; just confidence in his music. His accolades speak for themselves: multiple-platinum albums, five Grammys, and after toiling around as a session writer and musician for the likes of Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, he now has his pick of the litter when it comes to who he wants to perform for him — bringing in West, Brandy and Andre on "Evolver." "I feel like I only want to work with people who are the best at what they do," he said. "Everything I do I want it to be high quality, every bit of music that I'm part of I want it to be exceptional. I want it to be great."Legend's also getting into the record biz — the first artist signed to his HomeSchool Records is Estelle — and transitioning to being a demographic-transcending artist, having performed on TV's "Dancing With the Stars" and "A Colbert Christmas," and opened the Latin Grammys with Colombian rocker Juanes in the Spanish-language debut of "If You're Out There." All of that work is just part of his restless work ethic and creativity. "Hopefully, I'll be alive for another 60 to 70 years and I'll experiment with all kinds of things musically, and that's the fun in what I do," Legend said. "Every time I do a new album or enter a new project it's an adventure. Every time I do a new tour — I get the opportunity to expand my palate." May there be many more good mornings to come. » DAR Constitution Hall, 311 18th St. NW; Tue., Dec. 9, 8 p.m., $71; 202-628-1776.