(KMSP) - Thirty years ago, Jovonta Patton’s family made international headlines when they escaped one of the deadliest house fires in Minnesota history. In an interview with his mother from a hospital bed, Abigail Patton is holding her twin daughters, “I asked God please wrap your arms around my babies.”
Jovonta wasn’t born yet, but he knows the story well.
“It's an unbelievable story. If my family would've died, I get kind of emotional thinking about it," Jovanta said. "If they would've died I would've never even been here so it's just crazy.”
His mother, Abigail, saved her four babies by throwing them out the second story window of this north Minneapolis duplex. Miraculously, they made it out okay. But, the people downstairs did not make it. Eight people died, including five children. Jovonta says, “A mother at 23 to just think so quick on her feet she always says it was nothing but God.”
Three years later, to the day of the fire, this single mother found faith. She joined Berean Missionary Baptist Church in north Minneapolis. Jovonta was born about a year later. He would reap the rewards of his mother’s decision. He says, “Our faith became really planted from my mother. We spent 19 years there and from that I became who I am and what I love is Gospel music."
At 26 years old, Jovonta is still heavily immersed in the church. Now going with his own family -- his wife Simone and two daughters Ella and Zoe. His love for gospel music is as strong as ever. As a praise and worship leader at Shiloh Temple in north Minneapolis, he’s known for the powerful music he creates.
"I felt like there wasn't a strong representation of young people that were in church or that loved God," Jovanta said. "It was almost like two different worlds. Young people don't lead in church. And I wanted to change that narrative."
Jovonta has been writing his own gospel music all his life. But after the birth of his first daughter, Ella, his inspiration, his music and his life changed.
"I finally got a chance to step into the mindset of a father because my father was absent," he said. "And so my love for her, I said God has to love me 10 times, 100 million times more than I love her. And so I just put those songs into God talking to us as his children and it became Finally Living."
Last summer, those songs unexpectedly took on a life of their own. Without a plan, little money, only a handful of rehearsals and no record label, Jovonta put the songs together on an album called "Finally Living", and sent it out on a wing and a prayer.
"It was literally the most craziest thing I had ever done and I was just following God," he said. "I didn't even know what I was getting myself into. End up recording this record and here we are today.”
Less than a year after recording “Finally Living” at his church, and 30 years after escaping that deadly fire, another miracle for the Patton family. Out of nowhere, from virtually nothing and against all odds, Jovonta’s debut album shot to the top of the Billboard Gospel Music Chart.
"Still to this day it's unbelievable," Jovanta says.
His wife Simone says, "I was just really happy and wanted to live out every piece of that moment with him."
But, perhaps, the person who’s proudest of Jovonta is the woman is credits for starting it all years ago. His mom Abigail, who, these days, proudly watches him perform in church.
So now, here we are, just a few months after Jovonta’s number one success. He recently sang the national anthem at the Minnesota Timberwolves game, and his star still rising.
But, making it big means very little to Jovonta. He wants to make it count. His journey, squarely focused on his true love of family and gospel music. On lifting up those around him and leading them to higher ground.
Jovonta’s current project is a youth ministry called The Wave, Minnesota.
If you’d like to watch Jovonta’s music video for “Know Jesus” from his Finally Living album, click here.