Making a Movement: “Glory” Song Study

John Legend

Lesson time 12:06 min

John deconstructs his process for writing “Glory,” the Oscar-winning closing song for the film Selma.

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Topics include: Exploit Your POV


JOHN LEGEND: (SINGING) One day, when the glory comes, it will be ours, it will be ours. Oh, one day, when the war is won, we will be sure. We will be sure. Oh, glory. Whoa. The interesting thing about writing "Glory"-- one, I love writing for movies, because I love an assignment where there's a little bit more clarity about what we want. Because writing a song otherwise can be quite open-ended, and the open-endedness is actually harder than having a specific intent. Knowing exactly where it's going to fall in the movie, knowing what the movie's about, knowing what the motivations of the characters are in the movie-- it can help focus your songwriting in a way that a more open-ended songwriting exercise isn't as focused. So when I got the assignment for "Glory," it was via a phone call from my friend, Common. So Common calls me up. He's an actor in the film, "Selma." He's in communication with the director of the film, Ava DuVernay. And she's saying, I need a closing song. I need something special that's going to sum this film up and be our closing song for the film. And of course, the film was about Dr. King. I knew that. But they sent me a rough cut of the film. I got to watch it and really understand the tone of it and the direction of it. And then, Common and I got on the phone, and we talked a little bit. He said, I was thinking of a few different ideas for the song. And he said a few different words, and one of the words he said was "glory." So his saying that word made me think, oh, I want to write a song called, "Glory." And so again, this is helping me focus my creativity, because I have a kind of an anchor word that I'm going to base the song on. (SINGING) Oh, glory. It was about the idea that we haven't won this battle yet for equality, for justice, but we're going to win it, and we're going to celebrate. Oh, glory. Again, this is another song that kind of hearkens back to my background as a gospel singer and a gospel songwriter. And I'm incorporating some of the language of music from the church and writing this song about the Civil Rights movement. Oh, glory. One day, when the glory comes, it will be ours. We're going to celebrate together when we achieve what we're trying to achieve. Now, part of me knows that we may never actually achieve this utopian ideal of equality and justice for everybody. But the song is a song about hope, song, about believing that it's possible and aiming toward that hope being a strategy for activism, saying, we don't know if we'll ever get there, but we're going to keep fighting until we do. And so that's what the song is about. (SINGING) Oh, one day, when the war is won, we will be sure. We will be sure. Oh, glory. So when I did the original version of the song, it was just me singing that chorus, leaving space for Common, me singing another chorus, leaving space for Common, and then me singing a bridge. (SINGING) Now, t...

About the Instructor

When 12-time Grammy winner John Legend released “Free” in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, he called it a prayer for peace. Now the recipient of the first-ever Recording Academy Global Impact Award teaches you how he wrote and recorded the song—and his process for creating hits like “All of Me” and “Glory.” Layer melodies and lyrics, develop your musical point of view, and make music that makes the moment.

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John Legend

John Legend, the EGOT-winning music icon and coach on “The Voice,” teaches you his process for creating music with impact.

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