The Historical Significance of John Legend’s EGOT

More than just a little gold statue.
By  · Published on September 10th, 2018

Before this past weekend’s Emmy Awards were announced, only 12 entertainers claimed ownership of an EGOT (that’s the assembly of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award). The first person to achieve such status was composer Richard Rodgers in 1962. He got the E for the TV documentary Winston Churchill: The Early Years, two Gs for the cast recordings of The Sound of Music and No Strings, the O for State Fair’s Best Song, and a grand total of six Ts. At the time there was no clever acronym for such a victory, and it seemed unlikely that anyone would follow suit.

Fifteen years later, Helen Hayes became the second person, and the first woman, to score an EGOT, and it only took her 45 years to do so. While she was quick to nab the Emmy, Oscar, and Tony, the Grammy wouldn’t come until 1977 when she shared the Best Spoken Word Recording honor (with James Earl Jones, Orson Welles, and Henry Fonda) for the record Great American Documents. Rita Moreno was the third winner of an EGOT, and she snatched it just seven months after Hayes but accomplished the task in nearly a third the time (1961-1977).

From Moreno’s win onwards, the EGOT became an achievable dream. The 1990s and 2000s were flush with landmark winners: John Gielgud, Audrey Hepburn, Marvin Hamlisch, Jonathan Tunick, Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols, Whoopi Goldberg, and Scott Rudin. In 2014, Robert Lopez became the last EGOT holder for the next four years, but he was the fastest to conquer it. He kicked off his streak with a Tony for Avenue Q in 2004 and ended his run with an Oscar for everyone’s favorite Best Original Song, “Let It Go.” Since then he and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez managed to grab another Academy Award for Coco’s “Remember Me.” At 39 years old, Lopez became the youngest winner of an EGOT, but as of September 9th, he must share that title with another.

John Legend‘s Best Variety Special Emmy win for Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert not only marks the singer/songwriter as one of the youngest EGOT winners, also at 39, but also as the first African-American male to secure the title. Beyond that historical significance, he accomplished this at the same time as his producing partners Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Another first: three EGOTs achieved in one night.

Webber and Rice started their EGOT chase in 1980 when they won a Tony for Evita’s Best Original Score as well as a Grammy for Best Cast Show Album. The Evita love continued in 1996 thanks to the Madonna adaptation winning an Oscar for “You Must Love Me” in the Best Original Song category. After mining that particular production for all its worth, 38 years later, Jesus Christ Superstar and Legend finally elevated one of the most famous entertainment partnerships into award show eminence.

Legend won his first three Grammys (three of currently 10) in 2005 for Best New Artist, Best R&B Album (“Get Lifted”), and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (“Ordinary People”). In 2015, he shared his first Oscar with Common for the tune “Glory” off the Selma soundtrack, and he won the Tony in 2017 as a co-producer on August Wilson’s Jitney revival. That’s an EGOT in 13 years. Not bad, but still not as fast as fellow young whippersnapper Robert Lopez.

What’s the worth of a little gold statue? Most sensible folks recognize that an award on the mantle does not equal actual quality. That dismissive conversation is an old one. The awards are an opportunity for celebration. The EGOT, in particular, is an incredible feat for an entertainer to realize. It is recognition from your community as a creative titan. Legend, Webber, and Rice have contributed several serious landmark works across many platforms, and this achievement was a long time coming.

The fact that the faces populating this status are shifting from one particular shade of white is no small note either. There are only four people of color amongst the 15 EGOT holders: Moreno, Goldberg, Lopez, and now Legend. Reverance for a myriad of voices is essential for industrial and societal growth.

A perusal through John Legend and wife Chrissy Teigen’s social media accounts reveal how this importance is not lost on them. With many mantels of trinkets, Legend lives up to his name.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)