“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” —Maya Angelou.
I can relate.
Music was never just a hobby for me. It’s a passion. A calling. An assignment. An assignment not to be kept to myself, but to be poured out as a voice for the voiceless in a world desperate for healing, love, and justice.
My beginnings as an artist were shaped by many things. My biggest influences were my faith, Chicago roots, and my dad.
Music and songwriting have always been my escape. My therapy. My method of communication.
I started making up songs from the moment I could talk. I’ve always loved shaping words to a melody. My teachers wrote on my report cards that I “always make up songs in class.”
I was drawn to the prayers and songs during worship services at the two churches I attended as a child. I felt the power behind those prayers and songs. They had the ability to change lives and provide hope. To me, there was pure beauty and wholeness in the worship experience—and I was enthralled. I wanted to be able to pray and sing with that kind of power. As a young child, I somehow knew that faith in God and my relationship with Christ would be the most important aspects of my life.
Maybe, as my mom told me, it was my grandfather’s interactions with me from the time I was three when he’d take me with him on his many errands—sometimes for the whole day. I enjoyed it because he catered to my every whim. He was a pastor, and my mom believes he spoke words of faith and purpose over me during our moments together.
When I was nine years old I heard God speaking to my spirit. On that day I formally accepted Christ and got baptized. That’s when I began to walk in what I knew was my calling. My parents saw my interests, and I began performing in productions at the Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre and singing in programs at Newberry Academy.
I remember the first time I realized I wasn’t just a singer—I could be a shifter and changer of atmospheres. I was about 12, and I sang “Because He Lives” with my dad on piano. It was an exhilarating experience for me. The congregation was engaged and supportive, and I could feel the Holy Spirit leading me on. I thought, “Wow, I could do this all the time!”
At Lincoln Park High School, I helped start a gospel choir and a club for Christians called BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ). My best friend and I began writing and performing Christian hip-hop rap in our group, So Virtuous. We performed on Saturdays at The House,a place for young people looking to worship the Lord through Christian hip-hop, spoken word, and rap. After high school, I was involved in campus ministry at North Park University and traveled all over the U.S.
Through these experiences, I gained confidence in sharing my gifts.
Though it has taken me years to overcome periods of self-doubt and fully accept my God-given voice,having a dad who was always supportive, affirming, and willing to woodshed with me gave me a foundation to believe in myself and pursue music as a career. My dad has been an artist all his life and has been successful—he even worked with Miles Davis. My dad’s drive and determination helped me see the vision for my life.
I saw my dad’s struggles firsthand, but I also saw his successes and the joy he always had pursuing his music. My dad is an example of the freedom that comes from doing what you love. However, every gift comes with a sacrifice, and often people aren’t aware of the costs that come with them.
Certainly I see that my dad sacrificed a lot to pursue his music career and has shown me that success and pain go hand in hand. He has also demonstrated great faith in God. He set an example for me, taught me the art of improvisation, and gave me the ability to flow and go beyond the script, not just artistically but also in life.
This past Father’s Day was special for me. I hadn’t planned anything. My dad had a gig on the lakefront, and afterward we met downtown. It was perfectly impromptu yet spiritually aligned. Dad is a vegetarian, so we got some good vegan food and spent time sitting on the rocks behind the Shedd Aquarium.
While we ate, we enjoyed the view. I asked him lots of random questions, which I do more often now since I realize the wealth of knowledge he has. We talked about music theory, 18-piece orchestras, responsibility, and the ability to respond. He even broke down the numerological meaning of my name and what it translates to in music intervals. I thanked him for making life so unique, rich, and special. I wished him a happy Father’s Day and told him I loved him. I pray God will keep him healthy and strong, that we’ll get to spend many more days together, that he always knows how big of a part he has played in any success I’ve had and will continue to have, and that I will always make him proud.
I am thankful to the Lord for so many things: for faith to break free of fear and judgment, for the gift of music, for my gifts, and for parents who created the space and opportunity for me to explore and pursue my gifts.
I’ve learned that the best gifts don’t always come in material form. My dad and mom gave me the gift of music. It simply flows from both of them, but for this piece, I was directed to focus on my dad.
My father was my first muse. He gave me full permission to experiment. I’m grateful for his examples of humility and authenticity. His creativity flows out of a well of truth and wisdom, not competition. It’s pure, and I realize now how rare that is. I’ve witnessed my father stay consistent and true to his craft, even with no applause. No matter the space, he gives 200 percent. I pay homage to his work. My time with my him is always filled with revelation, new learnings, and discoveries. People talk about empty-handed encounters, but I never leave empty-handed when I’m in the presence of my dad, Mr. Robert Irving III.