Musician John Legend said he was hesitant to publicly share images of his late son Jack, who was stillborn two years ago.
The black and white photos, posted to Instagram shortly after Legend and his wife, model Chrissy Teigen, endured the death of their third child, were a way to reach out to other bereaved families affected by this kind of sudden loss.
“I was hesitant to share it,” he explains in a BBC radio 4 interview, “but I think Chrissy was really right. Far more people than anyone realizes go through this and think they are alone.
“It was a very strong, wise decision from Chrissy to share it.”
Legend has it that some of the songs he has written since are about dealing with loss and grief, “when you feel broken”, adding, “There is no real comfort and you will always feel that loss. It spreads over time, so it doesn’t feel that heavy, but you’ll never forget it.”
Legend, presenter Lauren Laverne guest on Desert Island Discs on Sunday morning, would otherwise seem to have led a charmed life. At 43, he is a rare recipient of not only two Emmy and 12 Grammy awards, but 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 age 16 to become a student at the University of Pennsylvania, before he briefly a high-flying management consultant, who immediately earned more than his father’s salary.
His move into music soon resulted in a stellar solo career, following his early work with Kanye West. In 2021, he was invited to play at Joe Biden’s inauguration.
But Legend, 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 estranged from his mother, Phyllis, in his teens. As the leader of the local church choir, she had become deeply depressed after the death of her own mother and fell into mental ill health and substance abuse.
“She fell out of our lives for about ten years. It was my entire adolescence into early adulthood,” says Legend. Both seamstress and 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’s so sorry to be gone all this time,” the singer admits, recalling how hard it was for his siblings and his father, the factory worker, Ronald, while she was away .
“In that decade she had disappeared from our lives. We had to figure things out.”
Legend also explains his “quite presumptuous” made-up stage name. When friends started calling him “legend” because they felt his voice channeled the great soul singers, he decided to keep going.
“You know what? Who knows what’s going to happen to my career, but I’m going into it with confidence 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.”