23 May Divinity Roxx, Grammy Nominated Bass Protégé, on the Life Experiences That Inspired Her New Musical
by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
Many musicians remember the pivotal moment in their youth when they picked up their first instrument and knew they had found “the one.” But Grammy-nominated bass player Divinity Roxx says her big moment of bass discovery was more like a happy accident: The Atlanta native was a freshman at University of California, Berkeley, pursuing a degree in journalism, and initially wanted to play the electric guitar. But a close musician friend told her she was destined to play the electric bass.
Turns out his gut feeling changed her life’s trajectory.
“I always say, ‘I didn’t choose the bass, the bass chose me,’” Divinity, who also happens to be a master storyteller, tells Rockmommy.
So how did the former journalism student launch a full-time career in music that included playing in Beyoncé’s band?
Divinity shares all of this and more in her new musical, Starchild – The Ballad of Debbie Walker, playing May 24-June 4 at Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, N.J. We recently caught up with her to talk about that.
Rockmommy: Hi Divinity! For our readers who don’t know about your music or your story fully, can you give us the five-minute background?
Divinity Roxx: I am from Atlanta, and grew up in Atlanta, where I started playing the clarinet when I was a kid. I didn’t play the bass until I went to college — I went to UC Berkeley to become a journalist! And while I was in college, I started hanging out with a bunch of musicians, rappers, and artists in California. A friend of mine was playing the bass guitar, and I told him that I wanted to play the electric guitar and he, he’s like, ‘Nah, you’re a bass player. You have that bass player’s personality.’
Over the summer break, I bought a bass and I brought it back to school, and he showed me some exercises that he did on his bass, and I started doing them every day. I turned on records and played along and I bought myself a book and taught myself to read bass clef because I knew how to read treble clef.
I fell in love with the bass and I convinced my parents to let me take a year off from school so that I could pursue music. My dad wasn’t happy, my mom was like, ‘okay, sure, follow your dreams.’ And so I moved back home and I just started playing at the clubs and in Atlanta, and my hip-hop group started to become really popular. We put out records and everything was going really great. I mean, yeah, I was still broke, but I was making music.
And then a bunch of other things happened. I ruptured my Achilles tendon. And after I did that, all I could do was play bass, so I got really serious about the bass. And then I enrolled in Georgia State into their jazz program, and really started studying and learning how to read charts and things like that.
And I heard about Victor [Wooten’s] bass camp, and I went. After the camp he asked me if I wanted to go on tour. So I started touring with Victor Wooten!
I taught myself to rap and play bass. And I hadn’t really seen anybody doing that, except for Victor. He thought it was pretty unique and cool that I could rap and play bass too. And then after touring with him for five years, I heard about the Beyoncé audition and went to that audition and got the gig and started to work with her.
Rockmommy: So what happened next, after that?
Divinity Roxx: During the pandemic, I had an opportunity to write some kids music. I had thought it was something that I would do when I got older and settled down. And during the pandemic, I got older and started settling down! I wrote this kids album that got nominated for a Grammy — the last thing I thought would happen. And I just found myself in this really cool community of kids’ music artists and making kids music and having fun and it’s been pretty awesome.
Rockmommy: It sounds pretty amazing to me, like you were meant to pick up the bass.
Divinity Roxx: Absolutely. I say that all the time. People ask me, how did I choose the bass? And I always say, ‘I didn’t choose the bass, the bass chose me.’
Rockmommy: How did you end up in the New York City tristate area, where you live now?
Divinity Roxx: Well, I met I met this incredible woman while on tour with Beyoncé who ended up becoming my girlfriend and she moved out to Los Angeles with me. After about five years, she really started complaining about how much she hated living in L.A., and she started looking for an apartment in New York. And then we found this really amazing apartment here and and we moved about seven years ago.
Rockmommy: You had that recent Grammy nomination —congratulations for that record, READY SET GO! How did you come up with an idea of doing this solo musical performance at Crossroads Theatre?
Divinity Roxx: Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of skills, because I had to: I had to learn how to make beats and produce because I wanted to make the music that I wanted to make, instead of making music that other people wanted me to make. And when I learned how to really make beats and play the bass and I learned how to loop those two things, I kept thinking, ‘Oh, it’d be really cool if I could be on stage’ … like a one-woman type of thing.
I also love to write. When I do my master classes, I tell stories about my life and my career, playing bass in between them and demonstrating the evolution of my career as a bass player.
So I’m gonna fast forward to me playing at Crossroads Theatre on a Saturday afternoon during their family music series [a few years ago]. Nobody came, not one kid, not one parent. The only person in the audience was the creative director of the theater. And of course we brought the whole band and my bandmates have kids and they came and but nobody else came.
So they were like, ‘Well, do you guys still want to perform?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna perform,’ because it was one of my first shows two as a kid’s music artist. I needed to do it because I hadn’t done it! But then the creative director walked up to me after the show — or before, I can’t remember — and he’s a very sweet guy, and he talks, really like a whisper, he was like, ’Do you have a story to tell? I’ve been watching your videos and I just feel like you have a story you’d like to tell.’ And then I told him I was thinking about doing that, and he was like, ‘we want to produce it.’
Then, Crossroads connected me with a dramaturge and they connected me with a writer: Richard Wesley.
Richard would read some of my drafts and he would give me some notes, ideas, and pointers … some critiquing. And so we did this for months and months and months. And then I had a draft down that I could perform at Crossroads at their Genesis Festival, and I did and it was cool. It was alright.
And then the Grammy nomination started to ramp up and I was like, ‘Hey guys, I don’t have time to do this one-woman-show thing, I might be nominated for a Grammy for my kids album!’ And so they were like, ‘well, take all the time you need!’ And, like, the day after the Grammys, they were calling like, ‘hey, so we need to work on that next draft’ and they asked me who I wanted to direct it and I wanted my friend Daniel J. Watts, who is a phenomenal talent here in New York City. He played Ike in Ike and Tina, he’s been in Hamilton. He has an incredible one-man show he does called The Jam. He is a triple, quadruple threat. He’s never directed anything and I’ve never done anything like this either!
I’ve been very fortunate to have Daniel as a part of this process. The bigger the production gets, the more sophisticated it gets, the more planning and direction is necessary to create the show that you want to people to see.
Rockmommy: Are there other players up there on the stage?
Divinity Roxx: Yeah, I have a drummer and a guitar player who you will see in the show.
Rockmommy: Your show is called ‘Starchild — The Ballad of Debbie Walker.’ Is that is that your birth name?
Divinity Roxx: Yes. So my mom named me Debbie Walker. I tell the story in the play of how I got the name Divinity … It took me a long time to really, you know, really, really become Divinity.
Rockmommy: Is this an all-ages experience?
Divinity Roxx: I would say 16 and up. There are some subject matters that are really hard that we’re going to talk about.
Rockmommmy: Any plans to go in to back into children’s music, to do another album on the heels of READY SET GO!?
Divinity Roxx: Absolutely. I got to do it, man. My drummer’s little daughter plays “Ready Set Go” every morning and now she picks up the guitar and does her little dance with it. I want these little girls and these little kids to see somebody who looks like them doing this and making music that makes them feel good and makes them feel inspired and is encouraging them.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.