Jovonta Patton of north Minneapolis has the No. 1 album on the Billboard gospel charts this week, and he got there largely by the grace of God and Facebook.
The 26-year-old singer — who performs most Sunday mornings at Shiloh Temple International Ministries on W. Broadway — joined a rare roster of artists to make it to the top of any Billboard chart without the help of a record label or national radio support.
He credited new-school social media shares for driving downloads of his self-released album, “Finally Living,” which he recorded live at Shiloh Temple. He also employed an old-school method gospel acts have used since the 1930s: selling records after church performances. “Facebook was literally a driving force,” Patton said, but he proudly added that “a lot of the sales have also been out-of-trunk, as they say in gospel music.”
Patton sang and sold CDs at a couple of well-attended church events in town during the past two weeks, including a unity service July 19 at Shiloh Temple in reaction to the Philando Castile shooting and violence plaguing the city’s North Side.
“I think a lot of people want to hear God’s message and hear positive, meaningful music right now,” Patton said.
Facebook has played a central role in the upheaval surrounding Castile’s death. It was used by Castile’s girlfriend to live-stream video as he died of a gunshot wound after being shot by a St. Anthony police officer, and it has served as a hub for Black Lives Matter and protests related to the shooting.
In a less momentous but similarly effective way, Patton turned to Facebook as the primary promotional tool for his album, sharing posts about where it can be preordered or downloaded, as well as a video of him singing the leadoff track, “Know Jesus,” the night it was recorded in October.
“People just kept sharing and sharing the posts. Even I was surprised by the numbers,” Patton said.
Quantifying No. 1
It doesn’t take big numbers to top Billboard’s gospel chart. Patton got there by selling 1,543 copies of his album in its first week out, according to Nielsen Music — not enough to get into Billboard’s top-200 album chart.
Still, within the gospel music world, it’s a big deal to see a relatively unknown musician ranked above such giants as Kirk Franklin, Shirley Caesar and the “Wow Gospel 2016” compilation. A Billboard charts representative said it’s also impressive to see Patton got to No. 1 largely from “venue sales” (in-person transactions) within Minneapolis.
At Shiloh Temple, Patton’s achievement is certainly receiving high praise.
“It was no great surprise for us, because we know his talent well, and we’ve seen how much time and energy Jovonta puts into his music,” said Bishop Richard D. Howell Jr., who now has even higher expectations for the album: “I think it has Grammy Award written all over it,” the bishop said.
The Billboard ranking was also good news for Winterland Studios in New Hope, whose staff helmed the live recording after producing Patton’s four previous albums. Despite hosting such stars as Lenny Kravitz, Alanis Morissette, Jonny Lang and Brian Setzer, Winterland has never landed a No. 1 until now.
“He’s a really hardworking and mostly self-funded artist, so it’s all the cooler to see him get this kind of success,” said Winterland’s Josh Levi, who engineered the recording. “The point of doing it [at Shiloh Temple] was to capture the way Jovonta can light up the room.”
A daughter’s inspiration
Active in church music since his Sunday-school days, Patton studied music at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and became known around town in recent years for directing the kids’ choir Deliverance for Youth (DFY). “He made a lot of wonderful music and did a lot of good for the community,” Howell said of DFY.
“Finally Living” was recorded with professional backup singers and band members from the Twin Cities and Chicago. The title and a few of its songs — all new, original tunes — were inspired by fatherhood after his wife, Symone Patton, gave birth to their daughter, Ella, now 1.
In addition to his Twin Cities appearances, Patton also has performed at church events in California and he hopes his newfound claim to chart fame will lead to more tour dates.
“Being a new father with a family to support makes it even more challenging trying to be a full-time musician,” Patton said. “This could make a big difference in my life and my ministry efforts.”