It’s not everyday an artist wins an award in a category they themselves helped create.
But for poet J. Ivy, that became a reality earlier this month when he took home the Grammy in a category he pushed for the creation of, Best Spoken Word Poetry Album.
Speaking exclusively with DailyMail.com, Ivy, 46, described the process of creating the category, his journey to becoming a poet, and what it felt like to finally win that Grammy.
A president of the Chicago chapter of the Recording Academy, Ivy has spent the last six years advocating for poets to receive official recognition by the organization. Until this year, poets were battling it out against the likes of audiobook narrators in the Best Spoken Word Album category.
The last poet to ever win a Grammy was the late Maya Angelou, Ivy said. That was in 2003.
Now, thanks to Ivy’s efforts, the Recording Academy launched the brand new category this past year – Best Spoken Word Poetry Album. Ivy says it marked the first time five poets had been nominated for a Grammy in a single year.
Going for the gold! J. Ivy has the distinction of not only being the first winner of the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Poetry Album, but also being the one who pushed for it’s creation
‘This is something that I’ve been working on for six years with the Recording Academy. There historically has always been a spoken word category but the only poet to ever win in that category is Dr. Maya Angelou. So the Academy defines spoken word as recordings without music, so it included poetry, audiobooks, narration, and storytelling. And for the past couple decades, audiobooks has dominated the spoken word recording, which left poets, which left spoken word artists feeling, you know, overlooked, and cast out and a lot of poets felt like we didn’t have a place at the Grammys,’ he explained.
Once Ivy became a member – and then later president – of the Chicago chapter board, he finally felt he was able to advance fellow poets in achieving recognition.
‘I became the first poet in the history of the Grammys to hold a presidency out of all the 12 chapters. Then I became the first poet to ever hold a trustee seat… so what it did was it put a voice from the poetry community in the room so while we’re working on different things to help service the music community. “Okay, let’s work on this, work on that, work on that.” Meanwhile, I’m the poet in the room like “Hey y’all… this spoken word category. We really need to do something about this.”
Ivy started gathering information about the submission process and shared what he learned with other poets.
‘So I started sharing information with the poetry community and we started asking and making sure that they would submit albums. You have to be a voting member to submit your album, so for the poets who weren’t, and most of them were not, I submitted albums on behalf of them. So we got submission numbers up, we got the awareness of up, and then last year I wrote a proposal.
‘I named the category, I wrote a new definition, and the proposal included why this was important to the poetry community and the music community as a whole and I submitted the proposal. The board of trustees, we voted on it, and it passed. So this year was the first time in the history of the Grammys that five poets were nominated. Guaranteed that a poet would bring a Grammy home and I’m just over the moon that I had the opportunity to be that person, that’s incredible.’
Ivy clarified who nominated his album: ‘The voting members is made up of your peers so artists, producers, engineers, these are the folks of the music that who vote on these projects so our peers found the album worthy of being voted on and you know, we did it.’
Ivy can thank his high school teacher Paula Argue for helping him launch his prolific poetry career. She saw his potential as a teenager and encouraged him to give it a try.
Winner! Ivy pictured receiving the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Poetry Album
Giving a shout-out: The poet mentioned his former high school teacher Paula Abdul, who saw his potential as a teenager, in his acceptance speech
Paula, aka Miss Argue, urged Ivy to perform at one of her talent shows. When he finally appeared on stage and received a standing ovation from his peers, he was hooked.
‘My life changed. And I was like, “Mrs. Argue, when’s the next show?” And I’ve been doing it ever since.’
Ivy has remained in touch with Miss Argue over the years and he even gave her a shout-out in his Grammy speech.
‘I spoke with her the other day. She is so proud and so happy and she thanked me for always sharing my life… over the years, whenever something big has happened, I call my mama, I call Miss Argue…. it’s a beautiful feeling because I knew I wouldn’t be in this position without her,’ he said.
When Ivy finally won the Grammy a few weeks ago, he described hearing his name called as the winner a surreal experience.
‘It was such a dream and it was like slow-motion, you know? They couldn’t say it fast enough and it took me a minute to actually process the idea that they actually said… They just really said my name? It was just an overwhelming feeling of joy. Just pure joy.
‘I’m telling people, “I think I know what it feels like to win the Super Bowl.” Because you work for something for so long, you dream about it so long, and finding yourself in the dream that you’ve been envisioning for years upon years is absolutely incredible.’
Ivy’s album which won, The Poet Who Sat By The Door, was released in 2022. It features the likes of John Legend, a musician he has known since their days working on Kanye West’s 2004 album The College Dropout.
Ivy says he was the one who came up with the name the world now knows him by – John Legend.
Ivy’s album which won, The Poet Who Sat By The Door, was released in 2022
Helping future talent: Ivy pictured at Bulleit Frontier Whiskey’s unveiling of the A Toast To The Times at a party in Los Angeles earlier this month
Moving and grooving: Col3trane provided some of the musical entertainment
At the time they had first met, Ivy says John was still going by his legal name John Stephens.
‘I met John Stephens the night that I recorded my verse of Never Let Me Down,’ Ivy recalled of the verse he performed on The College Dropout. After listening to John’s music at Kanye’s urging, the Ordinary People singer ends up walking into the studio.
‘I didn’t know he was there. So I was shocked to see him! “Ah what’s up man!… I heard your music, it’s amazing. It sound like that music from the old school! Sound like that music my folks used to listen to!”
‘I was like, “Man, you sound like one of the legends! You a legend, you a legend! Matter of fact, that’s what I’m going to call you from now on. I’m going to call you legend.” So I started calling him John Legend, John Legend. So it was just me and him talking and a couple days later we’re in the lounge of the studio we were at record playing.
‘And John Stephens, who was signed to Kanye as John Stephens, he had albums out as John Stephens. I mean this is his government name, he’s been John Stephens his whole life.
‘So they were going to put him out as John Stephens and he walked in the room, there’s like 10-12 us in the lounge, everybody is shouting him out, “John Stephens in the building! John Stephens in the house! What up John Stephens!” I was like “John Legend!…. that’s your name from now on, you John Legend!” It stuck.’
Now Ivy is helping mentor other up-and-coming artists through his partnership with Bulleit’s program, The Bulleit Pioneer Project, a multi-year campaign raising the voices of emerging and underrepresented talent in an array of sectors. The winner of one of the project’s activations, The Remix Challenge, will be awarded with a one hour mentorship session with Ivy.
Thinking back to Mrs. Argue, Ivy knows the power mentorship can have on a person’s career trajectory.
‘So whenever I get a opportunity to give back, pay it forward, speak to some young folks or mentor anyone who is pursing their dreams, it’s the best feeling in the world because I know the impact that it can have on your life,’ he explained.
Mixing it up! Siobhan Bell kept the party going from behind the DJ booth
In good spirits! Guests enjoyed a range of delicious treats at the bash