After touring with Beyoncé, Divinity Roxx brings positive vibes to children's music

Nov 4, 2021
Originally published on November 5, 2021 8:41 am

Divinity Roxx, best known for playing bass in Beyoncé's all female band, is making her mark on the family music scene. From start to finish, her new album, Ready, Set, Go, is about positivity in mind and body.

Divinity says that as she was writing the album, she thought "about the kid inside of me," as well as her nieces and nephews.

"A lot of times they're listening to adult music, and these concepts are too mature for them, and I don't like to hear them singing some of these lyrics," she says. She set out to write "a jam that's appropriate for a five year old, that makes them feel good about being alive, and makes them think about life in a different way."

The title track of Ready, Set, Go is the ultimate morning jam, with its aerobic tempo and rhymes like "Put that pep in your step, put that pride in your stride."

Divi Roxx Kids / YouTube

Weekday mornings were upbeat at the Atlanta home of little Debbie Walker, the future Divinity Roxx. Her mom was president of the local PTA. "She would give us a sermon every morning about how it was time to get up and why we were going to school," Divinity recalls. "And you got to make opportunities for yourself and ... go out there and be something in the world and you got to be prepared." Channeling her mom's energy, Divinity says, "The lyrics are just about being prepared for your day, because preparation is the key to success."

Divinity Roxx was plenty prepared when she auditioned for Beyoncé, but getting to that point in her career wasn't always easy. She's been playing music since she was a little girl, and spent a lot of time with her uncle who played bass and saxophone. Divinity's first instrument was clarinet.

But when she was in middle school, her mother started doing drugs. "She wore herself out. I had this really rare blood disorder as a kid, so she had to take me to the doctor every single week," Divinity recalls. "And then as soon as I got better, my sister had arthritis in her knees, so then she started going to the doctor every week. I think my mom just checked out at a certain point.

"Addiction is real," she adds, "and it tears people apart."

Divinity says her mom has been in recovery for 30 years now.

Years later, she used a voice-mail recording from her mom in the song "Miracle," on her solo album ImPossible.

'You walk like a bass player. You talk like a bass player.'

Divinity went to the University of California at Berkeley to study journalism, but says she ended up mostly hanging out with musicians. She recalls that when she told a bassist friend she was ready to pick up an instrument again, he told her, "You're a bass player. You walk like a bass player. You talk like a bass player."

She's pretty sure now that her "vibe" was responsible: "Bass players are more laid back. They're cool being in the cut." (No offense to guitarists, she's quick to add.)

Divinity practiced and played at clubs whenever she could. She learned that her idol, bassist Victor Wooten, was hosting a bass camp in Tennessee. "He has this philosophy about how music and nature are really connected and interrelated so he was teaching life and survival skills as well as bass," she says. "And when I heard that he was having the camp, I said, 'I have to go.'"

Beyoncé Knowles (L) with guitarist Bibi McGill and Divinity Roxx at the 2006 American Music Awards.
Ethan Miller / Getty Images

"Divinity came across as the complete package — more than myself," Wooten says. He remembers that when she first played for him and the other counselors, "it blew us all away." When camp was over, Wooten asked Divinity to tour with him and his band. "She was a hit every night," he says. "She was just riveting and powerful, and just electric on stage."

Divinity never heard Beyoncé say "I'm tired"

Divinity was over the moon. She says her "dream" was to have a career like Wooten, a Grammy-winning artist who makes a living writing, recording and performing. "He had his own tour bus!" she remembers thinking.

But in 2006, people kept telling her that Beyoncé was forming an all-female band, and that she should audition for it. "I didn't think anything about it because I was like: Beyoncé is Beyoncé. She can call anybody. I don't even understand why she's having auditions; I can think of five bass players she should hire right now, and none of them equal me, right?"

Wrong, it turned out. Having watched the pool of applicants get smaller and smaller after auditions in Atlanta and New York, Divinity and the other musicians still standing learned from Beyoncé's father, Matthew Knowles, that they were hired.

"He says, 'OK, so Beyoncé wants all of you to be a part of her all-female band, and get ready, because in two weeks you're going to play the BET awards,'" Divinity remembers. "We were just there dumbfounded — like, what just happened?!"

Divi Roxx Kids / YouTube

Touring the world with Beyoncé was a huge learning experience. During an exhausting period of traveling, performing and rehearsing, Divinity happened to get on the elevator with the superstar and her mom, Miss Tina.

Beyoncé, Divinity recalls, leaned up against the wall and sighed. "Miss Tina looks at her and says, 'Are you tired?' And she stands up and looks at her and says 'I could run a mile.' I just laughed and I said: yeah, that's the attitude. I've never heard her say, I'm tired. I try to take that out of my vocabulary. Because she's going to do what she has to do to reach her goal."

Love wins every time

With her new children's project, Divinity Roxx has now reached one of her goals. Good thing, says rapper FYÜTCH, who's active in the children's music scene. He's one of the guest artists on Divinity's new album.

"The fact that Divinity Roxx is dedicating her mission, her time, her music, her resources, her experience as a world traveled musician to kids music and family music and books," he says, "it's showing how diverse this industry really is, and much potential there is."

While unabashed positivity runs throughout Ready, Set, Go, Divinity also includes a song called "Love, Love, Love" that recognizes sometimes families argue. "Whenever humans come together, there's always some kind of conflict you're going to face," she says. "But if you can rest on the fact that you love each other and respect each other when you are expressing your differences, that love is what's going to keep you bonded." Wise words for grown-ups too.

Scholastic is publishing the lyrics of two of the songs from Divinity's new album: Happy and Healthy and the forthcoming Me + You, both with illustrations by NaShanta Fletcher.

Now Divinity is working on a one-woman show which she describes as "the origin story of a superhero named Divinity Roxx."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A bass player for Beyonce is now singing for kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "READY SET GO!")

DIVINITY ROXX: (Rapping) Ready, set, go. It's a brand-new day, and I'm feeling good. You're feeling good. Let's get on our way.

INSKEEP: Divinity Roxx was also Beyonce's music director. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports on her solo project, which includes a children's book.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Growing up in Atlanta, Divinity Roxx has vivid memories of mornings before school. Her mom was head of the local PTA.

ROXX: She would give us a sermon every morning about how it's time to get up and why we were going to school and school was so important. And you got to make opportunities for yourself, and you got to go out there and be something in the world, and you got to be prepared. And so "Ready Set Go!" was sort of like, OK, this is what I want to hear when I'm waking up in the morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "READY SET GO!")

ROXX: (Rapping) Keep moving, grooving, growing, loving, laughing, living, learning, go ahead, put your hands in the air, dance all around, I'm happy I'm here in class on time, present, yeah, got everything that I need, prepared.

The lyrics are just about being prepared for your day because preparation is the key to success.

BLAIR: Divinity Roxx was plenty prepared when she auditioned for Beyonce. But getting to that point in her career wasn't always easy. She's been playing music since she was a little girl, spent time with her uncle, who played bass and saxophone. Divinity's first instrument was clarinet. When she was in middle school, her mother started doing drugs.

ROXX: She wore herself out. I had this really rare blood disorder as a kid, so she had to take me to the doctor every single week. And then as soon as I got better, my sister had arthritis in her knees, so then she started going to the doctor every week. And I think my mom just - she just checked out at a certain point. And that's - you know, addiction is real and it tears people apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRACLE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hey, Divinity, it's Mama.

BLAIR: Years later, Divinity used a voicemail recording from her mom on one of her solo albums.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRACLE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah, I wanted to connect with you before you left. But, you know, you been busy and it's all good 'cause you do your part and support and I appreciate that.

BLAIR: The song is called "Miracle." Divinity says her mom has been in recovery for 30 years now. For college, Divinity went to the University of California at Berkeley to study journalism but ended up hanging out with musicians. One of them made a suggestion.

ROXX: He was like, you're a bass player. You walk like a bass player. You talk like a bass player. You should play bass.

BLAIR: What do you think he was talking about?

ROXX: I don't know. Maybe my vibe. Bass players are more laid back. You know, they're cool being in the cut.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTOR WOOTEN AND DIVINITY ROXX'S "GET IT RIGHT")

BLAIR: Divinity was hooked. She practiced and played at clubs whenever she could. Then she read that her idol, bassist Victor Wooten, was hosting a bass camp in Tennessee.

ROXX: He has this philosophy about how music and nature are really connected and interrelated, so he was teaching life and survival skills as well as bass. And when I heard that he was having the camp, I said, I have to go.

BLAIR: Victor Wooten says when he first heard Divinity play and rap, he was blown away and asked her to tour with him.

VICTOR WOOTEN: She was a hit every night. She's just riveting and powerful and just electric on stage.

BLAIR: Divinity says her dream was to have a career like Wooten, a Grammy-winning artist who makes a living writing, recording and touring. But in 2006, people kept telling her Beyonce's forming an all-female band and you should audition for it.

ROXX: And I didn't think anything about it because Beyonce is Beyonce. She can call anybody, so I don't even understand why she's having auditions. I can think of five bass players she should hire right now, and none of them equal me, right?

BLAIR: Wrong, as it turns out. Divinity auditioned in Atlanta, then again in New York. Beyonce's father, Mathew Knowles, was the one to announce that she and the other musicians were hired.

ROXX: And he says, OK, so Beyonce wants all of you to be a part of her all-female band. And get ready because, in two weeks, you're going to play the BET Awards.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEJA VU")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Boy, I try to catch myself, but I'm out of control. Your sexiness is so appealing. I can't let it go.

BLAIR: Divinity says touring the world with Beyonce was a huge learning experience. One time during an exhausting period of traveling, performing and rehearsing, Divinity happened to get on the elevator with Beyonce and her mom, Miss Tina.

ROXX: And she kind of leans on the wall. She kind of sighs, and Miss Tina looks at her and says, are you tired? And she stands up and looks at her and says, I could run a mile (laughter). I just laughed and I said, yeah, that's the attitude. I've never heard her say, I'm tired. I try to take that out of my vocabulary because she's going to do what she has to do to reach her goal.

BLAIR: Now Divinity Roxx has reached one of her goals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELING GOOD")

DIVINITY ROXX AND FYUTCH: (Rapping) I'm feeling good. I'm feeling great, feel like everything is going my way.

BLAIR: The rapper Fyutch, who's active in the children's music scene, is one of the guest artists on Divinity's new children's album.

FYUTCH: The fact that Divinity Roxx is dedicating her mission, her time, her music, her resources, her experience as a world-traveled musician to kids music and family music and books, it's showing how diverse this industry really is and how much potential there is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELING GOOD")

DIVINITY ROXX AND FYUTCH: (Singing) Welcome all this thankfulness. I'm grateful for my life. When the world's got me down, I just say this out loud - I'm feeling good. I'm feeling great.

BLAIR: Divinity says when she was writing songs for the new album, she thought about the child in her and her nieces and nephews.

ROXX: A lot of times, they're listening to adult music, and these concepts are too mature for them. And I don't like to hear them singing some of these lyrics. So how can I make a jam that's appropriate for a 5-year-old that makes them feel good about being alive and makes them think about life in a different way?

BLAIR: Positivity is all over this album, including on a song that admits sometimes families argue.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE, LOVE, LOVE")

ROXX: (Singing) Sometimes you drive me crazy. Sometimes you make me laugh. Sometimes I make you angry. And I don't mean to do that.

Whenever humans come together, there's always some kind of conflict you're going to face. But if you can rest on the fact that you love each other and respect each other when you are expressing your differences, that love is what's going to keep you bonded.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE, LOVE, LOVE")

ROXX: (Singing) Sometimes we don't agree. We don't see eye to eye, but that's OK 'cause love wins every time. I love you. You love me.

BLAIR: Divinity's new children's album "Ready Set Go!" also comes with two books published by Scholastic. Now she's working on a one-woman show about a superhero named Divinity Roxx.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE, LOVE, LOVE")

ROXX: (Singing) Love, love, love, love, love, love, all that we need is love, love, love. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.