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Grammy-Winning Poet J. Ivy Is Living His Decades-Long Dream

Written by on March 13, 2023

Just before Chicago’s inaugural J. Ivy Day, the Grammy Award-winning poet himself stopped by the Vocalo studios to discuss his acclaimed new album and pioneering a poetry-based Grammy category.

“I keep asking myself, ‘What dream is this? What dream is this?’”

– J. Ivy

Chicago’s J. Ivy made history this year as the first poet to take home a Grammy Award since Maya Angelou in 2003. Historically, most spoken word Grammys have gone to audiobooks in the “Best Audio Book, Narration & Storytelling Recording” category — but this year, the Chicago poet took home an award under a new category: “Best Spoken Word Poetry Album.”

As a member of the Recording Academy, which presents the Grammys, Ivy helped advocate for the category. His mother previously joked that if he won the category, “it’s almost like it’s rigged!” 

“I know a lot of people are gonna think like that,” he explained. “I was like… I’ve got to create a masterpiece… it has to be a masterpiece.”

Consequently, Ivy voted to nominate artists for the Grammys this year, but didn’t nominate himself in the new category. He ultimately won for his 2022 album The Poet Who Sat By The Door.

(From left to right) Bekoe, J. Ivy and Taylor Nazon outside the Vocalo studios on March 2, the day before J. Ivy Day — which Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced to celebrate the poet’s birthday, and his contributions to Chicago arts and culture. Jayvon Ambrose for Vocalo

A nod to Sam Greenlee’s influential 1969 novel The Spook Who Sat By The Door and its subsequent 1973 film, The Poet Who Sat By The Door is a collaborative collection of spoken word poetry over instrumentals, exploring love, healing and endurance through a Black lens. With features from Sir the Baptist, Tarrey Torae, John Legend, BJ The Chicago Kid, Sunni Patterson, PJ Morton, Ledisi and Musiq Soulchild, just to name a few, the Grammy-winning album has also received praise from outlets including EBONY and the Chicago Tribune.

“We just wanted to create something special that, when people do hit play, it would be no question about this being worthy of that prestigious award,” Ivy stressed.

J. Ivy’s legacy and influence on Chicago’s artistic community and beyond cannot be overstated. Motivated to pursue poetry by his high school English teacher, Ivy rose to prominence performing around the Chicago scene and on HBO’s Def Poetry, has opened for nationally-broadcast sporting and cultural events, wrote for the 2022 Emmy-nominated docuseries Jeen-Yuhs and gave John Legend his artist name. Most recently, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared March 3 to be J. Ivy Day in celebration of his birthday and his contributions to the Chicago arts community.

“It’s just been a beautiful experience, man,” Ivy said. “I’m literally in the dream that I’ve been having for decades. It’s wild to see.”

Just before his inaugural city holiday, J. Ivy stopped by the Vocalo studios to sit down with Vocalo morning host Bekoe and WBEZ’s Taylor Nazon to discuss the album, its name, winning a Grammy and how his life has changed post-win.

J. Ivy will be also kicking off his tour in support of The Poet Who Sat By The Door at Chicago’s City Winery on March 28. Tickets and more information available at j-ivy.com.

J. Ivy took home a Grammy this year in a new category for “Best Spoken Word Poetry Album,” a category which he helped pioneer. Ivy became the first poet to win a Grammy since Maya Angelou in 2003. Jayvon Ambrose for Vocalo

Follow J. Ivy on Twitter and Instagram

Interview by Bekoe and Taylor Nazon

Audio editing by Joshua X. Miller, Morgan Ciocca

Introduction written by Morgan Ciocca

Photography by Jayvon Ambrose

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