Fame and Adversity, Love and Grace

I’m not one to look to entertainers for personal heroism. And I’m certainly aware that the made-for-public-consumption exteriors often hide some fairly unpleasant human beings.

But I’ve long found musician Jon Batiste–a jazz pianist best known as the “Stay Human” band leader for Stephen Colbert’s program–to be an extremely appealing guy: upbeat and open, seemingly unspoiled and genuinely nice.

And I enjoy his music and compositions, which deftly dance from funk to jazz to classical to his own melanges. Batiste is a graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School, a performing arts conservatory. He is both well-trained and gifted.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a video about him via Twitter. It was an interview he had given with his new wife, Suleika Jaouad, that aired on CBS Sunday Morning.

I find it so moving and inspiring that I want to share it with you.

This video is slightly less than nine minutes long. There’s a shorter version, but it doesn’t contain Batiste’s musicality or do as much justice to their story.

Batiste was nominated for eleven Grammy awards this season, and he won five, including for best album. He will soon debut his work American Symphony at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

He has called the work “something that encompasses what it means to be within the ideal of Americanism. The question at the center of this new composition is whether or not we are up to the task of democracy.”

It is clear he is a serious thinker and musician whose career is soaring.

Batiste and Jaouad, a best-selling author for her book Between Two Kingdoms, a memoir about her surviving leukemia after grueling treatment in her 20s, have been together for eight years.

When she learned last year that she’d had a relapse–this time with a more virulent strain– Batiste proposed. He insisted he’d planned the proposal even before the diagnosis; it had simply taken him a year to design her ring.

They were secretly married in February, just prior to her receiving a bone marrow transplant.

The story that unfolds is one of the selflessness of their love and the determination and creativity they are drawing upon to manage this conflict between the highest and lowest points of their lives together.

Jaouad speaks of “holding the…absolutely gutting, heartbreaking, painful things and the beautiful, soulful things in the same palm of one hand. And it’s hard to do that, but you have to do that, because otherwise the grief takes over.”

Her description of Batiste’s successful attempts to comfort her while she was isolated during treatment due to Covid restrictions, followed by Batiste’s demonstration on the piano of how he’d done that comforting, are especially beautiful.

The interview closes with Batiste describing his symphony as he plays its themes: “‘The night, it evokes a chant-like quality,’ followed by the day, ‘that sense of triumph, triumph over adversity.'”

When the interviewer notes a parallel between the symphony and Batiste and Jaouad’s complex realities, he responds: “Yeah; that’s life, man. That’s it. Strap in!”


14 thoughts on “Fame and Adversity, Love and Grace

  1. I agree with you Annie. Batiste is a rare gem. I didn’t know much about him until watching the Grammys and being impressed with his acceptance speech. Thanks for the video link.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh goodness, you just never know what’s around the corner. What’s up is down, what’s down is up. Thanks for sharing this. Had no idea. Postscript: there was an article not long ago about Steven Colbert and how when he connected with Jon Batiste, the latter insisted that Colbert meet his mother before he would agree to sign on for the show. Colbert flew down (southern US, if memory serves) to meet her, share a meal, connect. Love that. Everything through the heart, not just the head, as this newest chapter in his life shows. Wishing her — and them — all the good in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Denise. That’s a delightful anecdote; “everything through the heart,” for sure.

      I’m so glad he’s getting this recognition. And I assume everyone who’s connected to him is too. Friends who’d read my post told me today they tried to get tickets for his Carnegie Hall performance. The only seats available cost $3800.

      That performance, I just learned, will mark the first time an all-Black orchestra will play at Carnegie Hall.


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