John Legend is no stranger to the glitz and glamour of award shows, but there was a time when he was still a rookie in the spotlight — and he let the local newspaper tag along.
In 2006, the Springfield North High School grad allowed two journalists from the Springfield News-Sun to tag along with him in Los Angeles for the 48th annual Grammy Awards.
Photographer Marshall Gorby and reporter Andrew McGinn spent behind-the-scenes time with the singer and his family in the days leading up to the ceremony.
Recently Gorby, now a team leader with Cox Media Group Ohio, recalled standing in the lobby of Legend’s hotel when a woman spotted his camera gear and asked who he was there to cover.
When he replied “John Legend,” the woman told him she had never heard of him. “Well, you’ll know him tomorrow,” Gorby told her. Legend had been nominated for eight awards, including Best New Artist.
Legend holed up in a suite on the 11th floor of the Millennium Biltmore using his real name, John Stephens, to book the room.
“You could tell he was living out of his suitcase,” Gorby recalled, “and focused on what was going on around him.”
Gorby photographed Legend as he prepped for his big night, checking his laptop, dining on grilled salmon and sitting shirtless as his brother Ronald II gave him a shave and haircut.
“I don’t think he was putting on airs for us because he continued to do what he was doing and let us do what we did,” Gorby said.
“It was nice that he invited us in, considering all of the people who wanted to see and talk to him. I wasn’t a fan before, but I am now. He’s a nice kid, he really is, and his family is outstanding.”
The highlight of the story for the journalists came when they played a role in preventing Legend from potential embarrassment at the Grammys.
In the hubbub and excitement, Legend headed to the Staples Center with only the white tuxedo on his back, leaving behind several outfits he needed for wardrobe changes and his stylist, Lisa Sellers.
Gorby, McGinn and the stylist, along with Legend’s clothes, jumped into a rented gray Pontiac Vibe intent, McGinn later wrote, on being able to say, “Yeah, we saved the Grammys.”
McGinn’s narrative published the following day in the Springfield News-Sun tells it best:
“As we drove toward the center, about to take our place in line as the only car that didn’t come in the stretch and tinted variety, music fans who’d gathered outside wondered aloud who we were.
Rappers? Nah? Polka musicians? Conceivably.
But we couldn’t let them wonder a minute longer. “We have John Legend’s clothes,” Sellers yelled.
And, we’re proud to say, John Legend’s clothes arrived safely.
If he didn’t thank us in one of his acceptance speeches, we understand. But without us, he could have delivered one of them in his underwear.”
Legend won three Grammy Awards that night, Best New Artist, Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Ordinary People,” and R&B Album for “Get Lifted.”
The 61st Grammy Awards take place Sunday, Feb. 10, and will be broadcast live on CBS.
The live staging of “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” starring Legend, has been nominated in the Best Musical Theater Album category.
Last year, his involvement with the televised musical earned him an Emmy Award, making him the first African-American man to win the coveted EGOT, the combination of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.