This article is half of a two-part alumni spotlight in the fall issue of University of Denver Magazine. The second profile features alumna Lilly Hiatt, who released a new album this spring.
At least twice a year, the packages would arrive on a doorstep in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. Rudy Royston, just an elementary school student at the time, was always eager to open the Texas-postmarked parcels.
Inside lay the building blocks for a college degree, a full-time job and a career as a professional musician: rhythm sticks, bongos, triangles, glockenspiels, tambourines.
“It didn’t feel like there was a point where I decided to do music,” says Royston, a New York-based jazz drummer who released his new solo album, PaNOptic, in June. “I’d always done it.”
The instruments came from his dad, who mailed them from the RBI Music factory where he worked (and suffered an accident that left him a hook for a hand). “It felt weird if I didn’t see those things at age 7,” Royston says, remembering his confusion when he would visit a friend’s house. “Like, ‘Don’t you have a marimba? Why isn’t there stuff around?’”
Church put Royston behind a drum kit, but his four older siblings helped tune his tastes in music. Denver’s vibrant music scene filled in some blanks, while visits to his dad and white stepmother introduced Led Zeppelin, Space Cowboy and country. But Royston, who is Black, was always drawn to jazz.
“It was the one thing that I could actually do where it was OK