Keyboardist Weldon Irvine looms large in the pantheon of jazz-funk, profoundly influencing the subsequent generations of hip-hop artists for whom he served as collaborator and mentor. Born in Hampton, VA, on October 27, 1943, Irvine was raised by his grandparents in the wake of his parents' divorce, and while his grandmother played standup bass in a series of regional classical ensembles, her husband served as dean of the men's college at Hampton Institute. Irvine began playing piano as a teen, and while he later majored in literature at Hampton, music remained his first love, especially after discovering jazz. Upon settling in New York City in 1965, he was recruited into Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson's big band, a year later signing on with Nina Simone as the legendary singer's organist, bandleader, arranger, and road manager. The two also wrote songs together, and after seeing a performance of playwright Lorraine Hansberry's To Be Young, Gifted and Black, Simone instructed Irvine to compose lyrics for a song of the same title. After two weeks of writer's block, the words came to him in a flash of inspiration, and the finished song would later merit cover versions by performers including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Donny Hathaway on its way to becoming the best known of his approximately 500 published compositions.