John Legend's First Word as a Baby Revealed

John Legend and Chrissy Teigen provided an open and in-depth look at their lives both currently and their upbringing in a new profile by Vanity Fair. The piece features interviews with Legend's parents, Phyllis and Ron Stephens, who talk about their son as a young boy. At one point, Phyllis revealed what his first word was.

Legend's mother was the choir director in their Springfield, Ohio church, his maternal grandfather was the pastor and his grandmother was the organist. He and his three siblings were homeschooled after prayer was removed from their public school. So it should come as little surprise that Legend's first word was "Hallelujah."

He began taking piano lessons when he was 4 years old. Soon after, he started writing his own songs. "Typically, you tell your son or daughter, 'Have you practiced your lessons?'" his father said. "John was the kind of kid, like, 'Hey man, get off that piano, you're driving us crazy!"

But not long after, their family started to fall apart. Legend's grandmother died suddenly at age 58 of heart failure. "I was so traumatized by it because we were so close," Legend said. "She was my music guru."

Phyllis fell into a deep depression after her mother's death, which led to her and Ron getting divorced. Then she was introduced to drugs, and spent a decade living on the streets and in jails. "We all just filled in for our mom," Legend said about the time without her. "I cooked for everybody."

"She was a legitimate drug addict," he said. "We went years where we barely saw her because we felt a sense of shame."

Eventually, Phyllis got clean and found her way back to the church. When Legend won a Grammy in 2006 for his breakthrough album Get Lifted, his mother was next to him at the awards show. "You look at my mother now, she's so beautiful and radiant and regal," Legend said.


His upbringing, and struggles with his relationship with his mother, led to him becoming an activist for criminal justice reform. "When John goes into a prison he's not surrounded by an army of protectors," Bryan Stevenson, a fellow activist and author of Just Mercy, said. "He engages. He recognizes that these are the people he grew up with, the same people he's known his entire life."