Before he was John Legend, he was John Stephens.
The music superstar, who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, explained how he came up with the name "John Legend" when he appeared on Monday night's episode of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
Watch TODAY All Day! Get the best news, information and inspiration from TODAY, all day long.
“Well, it was a nickname that some friends started calling me in the studio, just guys that I was collaborating with,” Legend said.
“The first guy to call me that was J. Ivy. He’s a spoken word artist from Chicago. I met him through Kanye (West). We were all in the studio together. He just started calling me ‘The Legend’ because he thought I sounded like one of our old school soul legends. And it just caught on with our little group of friends, and then they were like, ‘We should call you John Legend.’ And it just really was in our little circle.”
Legend, who can currently be seen as a coach on the 20th season of “The Voice,” said the nickname got a boost from West, which led him to try and figure out whether he should stick with it.
“And one time, Kanye put a mixtape out, and he called me John Legend on the mixtape. And it just started to spread among more of the people that were listening to our music,” he said.
“And then, at some point, I had to decide, ‘Am I going to stick with John Stephens?,’ which I was perfectly fine with. I wasn’t looking for a stage name. ‘Or am I going to go with this more audacious name and call myself a legend before I even have a record deal?’”
The “All of Me” singer, 42, said calling himself “Legend” was daring, but also a way to push himself to succeed in the music business.
“That was a challenge,” he said. “And, so, I was like, ‘I know this is a bold move, but I’m not going to go into this expecting to fail. I’m going to go into it hoping that I can try to live up to this. And I’ve spent the rest of my career trying to do so.”
Legend has achieved commercial and critical success, with millions of fans around the world — including one of his own kids that he shares with wife Chrissy Teigen. He says daughter Luna, 4, likes Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez, while son Miles, 2, gravitates toward the “Frozen” soundtrack and his father’s music.
“So, Miles is still requesting my albums. He really likes ‘I Do,” from my ‘Bigger Love’ album and he also loves the Christmas album, so he’ll listen to my Christmas album all year round,” he said.