Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, H.E.R, BTS and Lil Nas X, sit in the front row, ready to receive the night’s biggest award.
It’s the biggest night of the year for music artists: the Grammys.
Finally, more than three hours into the ceremony, Album of the Year is about to be announced.
Lenny Kravitz reads the card as the room waits in anticipated silence.
“We Are” by Jon Batiste.
Even Batiste looks confused about winning the biggest Grammy of the year. No one expected him to win — not even himself.
Batiste leaves the 2022 Grammys with more awards than any other artist or group, five total, yet people still don’t remember his name by the time the final award is announced.
Born in Metairie, Louisiana, Jon Batiste comes from a long line of jazz musicians. He had already released two albums by the time he was an undergraduate at The Juilliard School, where he earned a bachelor's and master's degree in music and jazz studies. He has been everything from a professional pianist to a collaborative bandleader, and now he’s one of the most versatile musicians in the country.
From a quick look at his experiences before he turned thirty, it makes sense why he would win Album of the Year over the artists expected to win. He was nominated in 11 categories at this year’s Grammys, more than any other artist. The last time this happened was with Kendrick Lamar in 2015, and Michael Jackson holds the record for twelve nominations in one night.
Forbes named him one of the thirty under thirty for music, citing his career at “The Late Night Show” and his art director position at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. He was an instrumental part of the movie “Soul” that came out in 2020, improvising jazz songs for the music score and allowing creators to animate his hands while he played the piano.
His dedication to working on the score of this film won him a BAFTA, along with a few other artists. “Up” was the last animated movie to win a BAFTA, eleven years prior to “Soul.”
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I first listened to Batiste while watching “The Late Night Show” with Stephen Colbert. Batiste had an air about him that I liked, playing comical music during Colbert’s punchlines and having honest conversations like an old friend with the comedian. He has an old soul with a humble smile and spirit.
He signed with Colbert in 2015 as the musical director of “The Late Night Show” and has been there since.
I hadn’t heard any of his music, not even on the radio, beyond his brief jazz sessions on late-night television. When I watched the Grammys on my laptop while on the phone with my mom, it was the first time I had seen Jon perform one of his songs. I was taken away by his performance, arguably the best of the night.
Each time one of his nominations was announced, we anxiously waited to hear his name being called as the winner. I freaked out the moment I heard he won the Album of the Year, and my mom had no idea what was happening because her TV was a few seconds behind mine.
Not only is he an amazing music artist, but a kind human. Batiste started dating his wife, Suleika Jaouad, while she was in treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia and has stayed by her side while undergoing a second round of treatment since she relapsed earlier this year. Once I learned that Batiste was Sulekia’s husband, I instantly knew he was a gentle soul.
Batiste’s drive for singing the music in his soul is what makes him such a talented artist. His work, superior musical knowledge and versatility aren’t the only elements that have created his artist identity. The way he reacted to winning the Grammy says it all; he creates music and collaborates with tons of different artists for the joy of creating the music he wants people to hear.
The artists expected to win wrote the songs they knew would make top charts for many weeks in a row. Jon Batiste crafted the album he wanted the world to hear.
If you happened to miss the Grammys, watch Batiste’s speech after he wins Album of the Year. You won’t regret it.
Congrats, Jon. You deserve it for the incredibly talented musician you’ve become.