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How One Song Helped John Legend Win Best New Artist
(The Recording Academy asked recipients of the Best New Artist GRAMMY to share firsthand accounts of winning one of music's biggest awards. In this installment, John Legend details his win for 2005. The other artists nominated for Best New Artist at the 48th GRAMMY Awards were Ciara, Fall Out Boy, Keane, and Sugarland.)
(As told to Paul Zollo)
I won the Best New Artist GRAMMY [for 2005]. And I was invited to perform "Ordinary People" that year. It was a song I wrote with will.i.am in a session for the Black Eyed Peas. We were coming up with hooks for them to rap around. And when I wrote that chorus, I thought, "Oh, I really like this. I'm gonna keep this for myself." So I kept the chorus and went off and wrote the song based on that original chorus that we started working on. And that song sort of started the momentum that led me to the GRAMMYs that year.
I remember well when the nominations were announced, because I was there. I went to that very early morning press event they used to have in Los Angeles. I got eight nominations, including Best New Artist. Me, Mariah [Carey] and Kanye [West] all got eight nominations that year.
I felt I had a good chance at winning Best New Artist. The fact that I was nominated eight times made me feel I had a decent shot at it. But you never know. As it turned out, that day I won three awards and lost five. In addition to Best New Artist, I won for Best R&B Album and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
Winning Best New Artist, though, was the best of all to win, because that's the one you can never win again. You have the chance to win any of the other ones later in your career. But you can only win Best New Artist once. I think it's the most important one that I've gotten so far.
I'll always remember that night. When they announced my name, I was ecstatic. It was huge. I remember my family, and Kanye was right there. And we were all excited. My mom and my dad were there, my grandmother was there, a couple of my cousins, my uncles and aunts were there. That was the time when I got the most tickets for the GRAMMYs ever!
Winning Best New Artist is big. It's one of the few awards that's cross-genre and is featured as one of the big awards of the night. And if you look at the list of people who have won it, it's been a pretty amazing group of people. If you look at the quality of the music of these artists, it is astounding, and was the great start of so many long careers. After all, the Beatles won it.
It had a positive and lasting effect on [my] career. It put me on a national platform. Performing "Ordinary People" that night, too, was important for me. It all comes down to the song. None of it would have happened had I not [had] a song that moved people. I'm always of the mind that content matters more than anything, still. The delivery and technology matter too. But the content is critical.
There's no substitute for great content. And songs will always matter. Songs are the core of what we do as musicians. They are the core of what identifies us.
(John Legend is a 10-time GRAMMY winner. In October he released the first single, "Love Me Now," from his upcoming album, Darkness And Light.)
(Paul Zollo is the senior editor of American Songwriter and the author of several books, includingSongwriters On Songwriting, Conversations With Tom Petty and Hollywood Remembered. He's also a songwriter and Trough Records artist whose songs have been recorded by many artists, including Art Garfunkel, Severin Browne and Darryl Purpose.)