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Alumnus Follows the Music

Bivins in front of a wall with records hung on it

This story, written by Ervin Dyer, is excerpted from the winter 2019 issue of Pitt Magazine, the University’s flagship alumni publication.

The traffic in Los Angeles was at a standstill, but inside George Allen Bivins’s car, the radio dial spun. He was searching the airwaves for something to help pass the time, skipping through static until he landed on the popular hip-hop station KDAY. A new track was playing that he had never heard before. The beat was catchy, but the verses captivated Bivins, making the crowded highway around him melt away.

The song, by rapper Ice Cube, is an ode to fallen friends.

As Bivins listened, he heard a firsthand account of how violence entraps and kills young Black men. Behind the words’ bravado was a tale of street life that traverses politics, faith and loss. It’s a story of trauma, addiction, hope despite narrow odds, and the tensions between family patterns and peace and unity.

The year was 1990 and, while Bivins knew hip-hop music well, Ice Cube’s song had a depth that surprised him. It was more than the typical dance party track. As he continued to think about the lyrics, the Pitt alumnus was struck by the power the words held, the way they shared experiences that were otherwise unrepresented in music and much of popular culture. He became inspired.

That listening experience would help to transform Bivins, pushing him toward his life’s passion and an influential career working with some of the top names in music, including Usher, Alicia Keys, and the Notorious B.I.G. Today, as the executive vice president of music promotions at RCA, part of one of the world’s largest entertainment companies, he’s guiding Pitt students in his footsteps.

Read the full feature about Bivins and one of the students he’s mentored through the Geo A. Bivins Jr. Internship Award.