Michael Trotter was 19 when his first daughter, Michaela, was born. “She was the first thing I felt that I’d done right––my little girl,” he says. “I joined the army for her.” Michael enlisted in the United States Army in 2003, two years after 9/11. “I didn’t know it was wartime,” he says. “People say, ‘How do you not know that?’ Well, in the neighborhood I grew up in, we weren’t patriotic. No one cared––that’s rich people’s news. Meanwhile, someone I know just got shot yesterday.”
But what Michael did know was that as a soldier, he felt proud––then scared. He was sent to Iraq, where leaders who outranked him saw the fear in his eyes and treated him not as an underling, but as a brother. Stationed in one of Saddam Hussein’s rubbled palaces, he had access to a piano that had emerged miraculously unscathed. A captain heard him play and sing with his once-in-a-generation volcano of a voice, and he encouraged Michael to pursue music. When that same captain was killed, Michael sat down to write––really write––for the first time.
Officers noticed the tribute, pulled Michael from the front lines, and gave him a new charge: write and perform songs for the fallen. So whenever a brother or sister in arms died, Michael spoke to buddies, uncovered the story, and penned a song for the memorial. It was a heavy burden that also made him safer. “I remember, I would walk from one point to another, imagining people were chanting my name––imagining a concert that had nothing to do with death,” he says.