Victory at the Juneteenth Celebration at Virginia Avenue Park, CA

One of the great musical highlights in a day the City of Santa Monica set aside for a spirited Juneteenth celebration at Virginia Avenue Park, the 45-minute set by emerging singer/songwriter Victory was an engaging, pitch perfect showcase not only for her angelic soul vocals and artful blend of folk, pop, jazz and gospel sensibilities, but also her unapologetic approach to sharing faith and freedom through music in an intimate, beautiful and warmly inviting way.

If it seemed Victory felt right at home connecting with the crowd a sunny park setting, there’s good reason for that. Long before she worked with Kanye West on his Grammy winning 2019 album Jesus is King and signed to Jay Z’s Roc-Nation label, she and her large family (eight siblings) became prominent buskers on NYC subways and prominent tourist attractions. She joined her brother Abraham and younger sister Angel in the offshoot group Infinity’s Song, which rose to prominence in 2015 after Tori Kelly happened upon them singing Hillsong’s “Oceans” one day in Central Park and joined in. A video of the impromptu performance went viral and currently has 1.2M views on YouTube.  

Dressed stylishly in a bright orange dress and black boots, her cornrows topped by a black French beret, Victory needed only her voice, an acoustic guitar and the solid backing of a bassist and drummer to convey the depth of her higher-minded musical riches. Harkening back to (in the spirit of the occasion) civil rights era Nina Simone, she set with the crowd-pleasing “Feeling Good," introducing the subtleties of her low sultry vocals before amping up the beat with some foot stops on a slowly building, powerfully emotional journey towards wild vocal improvisations and the pumping groove of her rhythm section.

Once she had the audience’s rapt attention, Victory felt free to play the first two of the set’s four original songs, the hopeful, divinely infused “El Shaddai” (the lead single from her new album Glory Hour) and “Just Like In Heaven.” “El Shaddai” (a Hebrew name for God) is a contemplative, prayerful, urban flavored song whose gentle start, ultimately funky groove and ethereal vocal serve as invitations to life our eyes and cast all care aside as we ask God to “rescue us from the tide/On your wings/Lift Us High/In the Dark.” Creating something of an improvisational coda, she explained she wrote the song during the pandemic when everyone was focused on fear and dying. She thought instead it was better to meditate on “El Shaddai.”

Likewise, the buoyant “Just Like In Heaven” found Victory praying for divine restoration of everything that’s broken, all while beholding his glory. As it was clearly inspired by "The Lord’s Prayer," she wrapped the song with a recitation amidst the added fire of fiercely strumming guitar and deep drumbeats.

Capturing the pervasive joy and freedom that Juneteenth commemorates, Victory tapped into the higher, more gossamer realms of her wide vocal range on a graceful, reverent version of “Lift Every Voice” before tagging her gorgeous, dreamy yet deeply passionate rendition of Paul Simon’s classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with a spoken word reminder – for those who have ears, as the Bible says – that like the protagonist in the song, Jesus laid himself down as a sacrifice for us. She extended that traditional Spirit-filled message with a soft spoken yet otherworldly version of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” prompting some enthusiastic shout outs from the audience who realized they happened upon a musical church service.

Victory wrapped her uplifting show with two more originals - a heartfelt reminder to “Rejoice” and “let the joy of the Lord be our strength” and an as yet unreleased, folk-flavored, falsetto-driven shout of encouragement and empowerment to her “sisters” that they are truly “More Than Enough.” The singer sees “Rejoice” as the pivot point of Glory Hour where everything starts to get brighter – and this show, coming on a mostly sunny day in the midst of a month of June gloom, not only introduced many people to this incredible multi-faceted artist, but one who shares both her inner truth and her belief in the ultimate truth with unabashed conviction.