Jovonta Patton could not stop yawning.
It’s 11 a.m. Aug. 1, a day after Jovonta Patton Day in Minnesota (which was officially declared by Governor Mark Dayton), and Patton was sitting through his second interview of the morning in the courtyard of Minneapolis’ IDS Center.
Patton had good reason to be tired. The 26-year-old north Minneapolis native and independent artist gained nationwide attention in late July when he debuted No. 1 on Billboard’s gospel album charts with “Finally Living,” an album he sold mainly through Facebook and the trunk of his car. On top of that, he’s been recording a new music video, raising an infant and jumping from one interview to the next.
It’s been “a dream come true,” he said.
When it comes to music, Patton is no stranger. He was singing in a local choir at Berean Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis at just 4 years old. Two years later, he was writing his own songs. When middle school came around, he was conducting the same choir he had been singing in just a few years earlier. He became a professional singer at 16.
Patton has become something of a local celebrity—not just for his music, but also from his work as a community leader. In 2007, as a 17-year-old, he established a community choir called “Deliverance for Youth,” comprised of youth ages 14-21 from across the Twin Cities metro area. The choir—which aims to “empower and save youth for Christ”—has put out an album (written by Patton) and shared the stage with high-profile musicians such as rock band Foreigner.
Patton’s voice resonates throughout the North Side because, in addition to performing at weddings, funerals and services, he also attends community meetings, is active on social media and is an activist for gang and gun violence prevention in his hometown. In July, he performed at a unity service in Minneapolis in response to the Philando Castile shooting and the violence in north Minneapolis.
ThreeSixty Journalism had the chance to talk to Patton in August about his journey to No. 1, his inspirations, his North Side community and what’s next for the rising gospel singer.
Wong: Take me back to when you found out you were No. 1 on Billboard’s gospel album chart. What went through your mind?
Patton: It was unbelievable. I am still in disbelief. … Just disbelief, amazement, wow. It’s still like that, just wow.
W: How did you find out?
P: I found out through one of my favorite singers (Donald Lawrence) (who) tagged me on the post on Facebook. And some record executive had tagged me in a few posts as well on Facebook.
W: Did you expect that you would get to No. 1?
P: I mean, we were working, we were just doing what we were doing. Of course, you know, you shoot for it, but you don’t really think that that would happen.
W: How did you get to No. 1 without a record label?
P: God and social media. But I would say God and Facebook. Literally, we have thousands of clicks and sales directly from Facebook to the link that we posted.
W: What does it mean to be at the top of the charts? Does it mean you’ve reached your peak?
P: No, it’s definitely the beginning. However, it is a dream come true. One of my favorite singers in the whole wide world is Beyoncé, so you know I’ve seen her at No. 1 all these different times, so you just realize, ‘Wow.’ But to be No. 1, it’s just like a dream come true.
W: You could have moved anywhere to develop your career—Memphis, Chicago, Los Angeles—those are all great places for gospel singers, so why stay here in Minneapolis?
P: Because my community is here. And I’m a community kid. I can’t go places without speaking to people. People relate that to, “Ooh, you’re popular, you’re a celebrity.” Actually, no, I’m just involved in my community. So when you’re involved in different funerals, or different weddings, or different community meetings or voting or different things of that nature, you begin to meet those people that live in your neighborhood. From that, I decided to stay here in this neighborhood because I have the support of my community.
… I’m literally homegrown, okay. I mean I’ve worked downtown before; I’ve done everything in Minneapolis. From downtown to north is my neck of the woods.
W: You recently performed at a community service in reaction to the Philando Castile shooting in July. Do you feel your music plays a role in helping to solve issues of violence in your community?
P: Absolutely. My voice does play a role and my music. I would like to say on a bigger spectrum, my voice in general— whether it be through social media, or singing, or even us just communicating right now. Another one of my friends, they were killed probably two or three weeks before Phil, and we had a prayer wall, and (in) less than 24 hours we had over 800 shares, telling people just to come out and walk. Twelve-thousand views just of the (35-second) video.
However, that came from the community, and that was my voice. So I do believe I have a huge voice, and I also believe I have a bigger voice because I know (Castile’s) girlfriend, Diamond. So when she went live, I got a notification because we’re friends on Facebook. We went to school together. So once again, it wasn’t just a CNN story like, “Oh, what can I do to help?” I’m looking, watching my phone like, “That’s Diamond.”
W: What do you see are the issues in north Minneapolis with the violence that has happened, and what do you think are some of the solutions?
P: I would say some of the solutions are—and I don’t say this out of haughtiness, I say this out of humility—are bridges like myself. North Minneapolis seeing product from exactly where they live do something successful and give them hope. They need more pictures of hope from right where they come from. Not pictures of hope of people that they never really met or this far off on TV, but “That’s Jovonta!” They need to see hope, they need to see hope. And outside of them needing to see hope, they need a support system that believes in them.
W: What are some of the issues that you see?
P: I see a lot of issues. The lack of education, the lack of stable housing, highly mobile young people. Also the lack of summer programs for teens and young adults.
W: I know you created a summer program for teens as part of Deliverance for Youth (DFY). How have you seen that program impact young people involved?
P: Multiple ways. 90 percent of those young people that were involved graduated, went on to higher education, one of them just got their masters probably less than a month (ago). They’ve started businesses, done small-business clothing lines, hair salons, one just finished her bar exam. So we have had a plethora of success stories out of the summer program and out of just DFY in general. Higher education is one of the greatest ones. Some will write songs, they produce for other people, but higher education has been one of the main things that affect the DFY.
W: What kind of influence has your daughter been on your music?
P: I’ve been writing forever, however for this album, I did not start writing until she was born. My daughter had the biggest influence. … So I had my daughter four days before my birthday last year. I’m a very planned-out guy, so my daughter wasn’t a surprise or anything like that. We knew she was coming. However, I think it’s normal, first-time parent, so I started to worry about, “Hey, what am I going to do with a whole entire human for the rest of its life?” … It’s a human and I have to be responsible and I have to teach them. And I just started humming … “I have nothing to worry about.”
She also inspired me to write another song on the album called “No Love Lost.” She had a massive number two, and it was my first time having to change her. So massive… There’s a term that we use in the hood that says, “No love lost.” So if somebody does you wrong, or if somebody crosses you, “No love lost, it’s fine.” And so I just felt like you could have done the most messy thing that you possibly could do right now, however me being your father, there’s no love lost. And so I felt that that’s how God views us as his children. We may mess up, we don’t get it right 90 percent of the time … and so God is still there to compel us back to him and it’s no love lost. So she was a good inspiration. I owe her some money.
W: How has being a father changed your viewpoint on life, on music?
P: I was already soft, so let’s just start there. It made me softer. She’s changed my viewpoint on music in this particular way. She reminds me a lot of myself. The only reason why I say that is because she sings the whole entire album at 1, and she dances when Beyoncé’s “Formation” comes on, and you know, in the WCCO interview, she was singing the song. I would say seeing her notifies me that music is in me. It’s in me, because the product of what I could do, clearly, and it’s just in her. And so it really changed my viewpoint on life, that music wasn’t something that I chose, it chose me.
W: What are your hopes for your daughter and other youth in the Twin Cities?
P: My hopes for my particular daughter is I hope she grows up to sing and she’s really good at it. I hope that she’s a way better version than her father. I think you’re supposed to get better than your parents. … My goal for her is that she’s like a better version. … And for young people in the community, my goal is that hopefully this causes a lot of entrepreneurs and people that are bored to just do what they want to do. Go out, make a song, promote the song, create a plan. My hope is that they become successful in their endeavors and that they find finances and that they find audiences that will help support their particular vision and dream.
W: Yesterday was Jovonta Patton Day, so how did you celebrate?
P: It was Jovonta Patton Day in Minnesota, declared by Governor Mark Dayton. Believe it or not, the only thing I did was I went to Red Lobster, but I couldn’t even eat there. Everything else was working, singing, “Hi, how you doing? Can we take a picture? Can you sign this?” …
I did do something really cool later on, though. One of my friends has a ‘68 Impala and it’s really nice. And he took me joyriding last night downtown for about 30 minutes and we did a Facebook Live. I saw a lot of people, and everyone was congratulating me. So it was like a ghetto parade.
W: So what’s next for Jovonta Patton?
P: That’s a good question. I have a kid that is due Sept. 16, my wife’s birthday. But musically, to stay on the chart another three weeks. After staying on the chart for another three weeks, so I can submit myself for Stellars and Grammys, and that’s about it, just keep doing what I’m doing, singing and selling CDs so I can make my money back that I spent as an independent (artist).
A lot of people equate it as, “Oh you’re making a lot of money.” But it’s like, “No, this is the money that I spent that I’m finally making back.” I spent about $13,000 on the record.
W: Do you regret not having a record label?
P: Not at all. I’m happy I did it without one, because now when I do get the opportunity to go to one, then the offer won’t be one-sided. “Okay, well I could stay on the chart for this many weeks by myself.” I have leverage. People already know. What can you do for me that I can’t do for myself? Can you get me to perform at the Grammys preshow? If you can do that, then we can possibly talk.
So that’s kind of the next goal, but I don’t want to be in pursuit of a record deal or any of those things. I just don’t want to live in a moment where I don’t ever enjoy the moment. I want to be more of the, “whatever happens, happens,” and to keep working hard.
This transcript has been edited.