The 10 Best Moments From John Legend and Alicia Keys' Juneteenth Verzuz Showdown

Alicia Keys and John Legend
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Alicia Keys and John Legend

In a time of civil unrest throughout the country, Alicia Keys and John Legend’s Verzuz event was a healing balm. For more than two hours the pair played their biggest hits (20 each), including their solo songs and features. At times Keys sat at a fuschia piano as Legend took a seat behind a black piano. Other times, the pair got up and danced along to their hit songs, singing over the recordings.

In addition to playing their biggest hits, Legend and Keys also performed their newest singles. More than 150,000 tuned into the event on Instagram Live at its peak. The Juneteenth-themed event -- the latest in the Verzuz series created by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, Keys’ husband -- was also the the first in the series to be streamed on Apple TV.

The Instagram Live events, which started as a battle between producers and songwriters has sometimes turned into a much needed celebration amid a global pandemic and recent protests against police brutality. Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond were the last artists to participate in the event.

Here were Billboard's ten favorite moments from the event.

1. Keys and Legend kicked off the live event with a performance of “Redemption Song.” The emancipation-themed Bob Marley and the Wailers song -- which both artists have performed live in the past -- was a much-needed nod to the Juneteenth holiday, and the racial uprising that is currently occurring throughout the country. The powerful performance helped set the tone for the rest of the event as one of unity, not competition. 

2. John Legend talked about working with Lauryn Hill while he was in college. Introduced by a mutual friend when he was a 19-year-old at Penn, Legend met Hill while she was working on her solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. After playing a few songs for the singer (including Stevie Wonder’s "Love's in Need of Love Today”), Legend was invited to play piano on “Everything Is Everything” (1998).  “That was my claim to fame in school,” Legend recalled. 

3. Alicia Keys reminisced on a career first, too. Before playing Eve’s 2002 smash “Gangsta Lovin’," on which she's the featured singer, Keys recalled being in a “big studio” for the first time -- noting that she’d recorded her debut album Songs in A Minor at home.

4. Both artists gave chilling performances of signature hits. Legend didn’t use the backing track when performing the first verse and chorus from the popular wedding ballad “So High” (2004), which appeared on his debut album Get Lifted. He also sang his first Hot 100 top 40 hit, “Ordinary People” (2004), acoustically. “The day I knew I was famous [was in] 2005," Legend explained. "['Ordinary People'] had been out for a little while and I got a call from two people I’d been looking up to for a little while. [It was] Oprah Winfrey and Magic Johnson. On the same day."

For her part, Alicia Keys delivered beautiful performances of "Empire State Of Mind (Part II) Broken Down" (2009), “If I Ain’t Got You” (2003) and her debut single “Fallin’” (2001). When she performed a snippet of “Un-Thinkable” (2009), Legend backed her up with a few melismas. “That’s one of my all-time favorite Alicia Keys songs,” he said.

5. John Legend showed off his dance moves. The singer came from behind his piano to give a two step to songs such as Common’s “They Say” (2005) and “Heaven Only Knows” (2006). Just days before Father’s Day, he delivered hilariously wholesome dance moves -- with even wife Chrissy Teigen joking he was gonna split his pants in the process. 

6. A very special guest appeared in the comments. After being notified that Michelle Obama was leaving comments during the Live, Alicia Keys dedicated one of her earlier singles, “A Woman’s Worth” (2002) to the former First Lady and the other women watching.

7. They reminded us of their most famous features. “Excuse my language mom,” John Legend said while mouthing along to Kanye West’s “Blame Game,” (2010) on which he is featured. From Bam Cham’s “Ghetto Story” (2006) to Slum Village’s “Selfish” (2004), Keys and Legend reminded the audience of their best collaborations. 

8. The two drank champagne while listening to Rick Ross’ “Magnificent." “Happy Juneteenth,” Alicia Keys said as the pair toasted to viewers, while listening to the Legend-assisted single. The song’s hook fittingly makes mention of “champagne sipping.”

9. John Legend reminded fans he co-wrote Estelle’s “American Boy.” The singer made sure we knew that his appearance in the video for Estelle's crossover hit wasn’t random. He co-wrote the U.K. singer's 2008 Grammy-winning single alongside Kanye West and will.i.am, among others. “[It’s] one of the biggest hits I ever wrote,” he said.

10. Keys revisited her famous phone call from the “You Don’t Know My Name” video while John Legend sang in the background. It was an amazing recreation of the monologue immortalized the song's 2003 music video, which Keys said she decided to do with the help of the song’s co-writer, Kanye West. The same day Keys and West began writing “You Don’t Know My Name,” they also began writing the song that would become “Unbreakable” (2005).

Here’s the full list of songs played by the pair during the Instagram Live event:

Round 1: Baby Cham feat. Alicia Keys, “Ghetto Story” / Lauryn Hill, “Everything is Everything” (Legend on piano)

Round 2: Alicia Keys, “Underdog” / Slum Village feat. Kanye West & John Legend, “Selfish”

Round 3: Alicia Keys, “Karma”/ John Legend, “Prelude”/”Used to Love You”

Round 4: Eve feat. Alicia Keys, “Gangsta Lovin’”/ John Legend,“So High”

Round 5: Usher & Alicia Keys, “My Boo” / John Legend, “Ordinary People”

Round 6: Alicia Keys, “Empire State Of Mind (Part II) Broken Down” / Common feat. Kanye West & John Legend, “They Say”

Round 7: Alicia Keys, “Teenage Love Affair” / John Legend, “Heaven”

Round 8: Alicia Keys, “Un-thinkable (I'm Ready)” / John Legend, “Another Again”

Round 9: Alicia Keys, “If I Ain’t Got You” / John Legend, “This Time”

Round 10: Alicia Keys, “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart”/ John Legend, “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)”

Round 11: Alicia Keys, “A Woman’s Worth” / John Legend & The Roots feat. Common & Melanie Fiona, “Wake Up Everybody”

Round 12: Alicia Keys feat. Tony! Toni! Toné!, “Diary” / Kanye West feat. John Legend, “Blame Game”

Round 13: Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” / Rick Ross feat. John Legend, “Magnificent”

Round 14: Alicia Keys, “Superwoman” / Estelle feat. Kanye West, “American Boy” (John Legend co-written) 

Round 15: Alicia Keys, “You Don’t Know My Name” / Rick Ross feat. John Legend, “Rich Forever”

Round 16: Alicia Keys, “Unbreakable” / John Legend feat. Andre 3000, “Green Light”

Round 17: Alicia Keys, “In Common” / John Legend feat. Jhené Aiko,  “U Move, I Move”

Round 18: Alicia Keys, “Girl on Fire”/ John Legend, “All of Me”

Round 19: Alicia Keys, “Fallin’” / DJ Khaled feat. John Legend & Nipsey Hussle, “Higher”

Round 20: Alicia Keys, “No One” / Common & John Legend, “Glory”

Bonus Round: Alicia Keys, “Perfect Way to Die” / John Legend, “Never Break”