Who Is Album Of The Year Winner Jon Batiste?


Briella Henn, Writer

The sixty-fourth annual Grammy Awards were held in Las Vegas on April 3, rewarding some of the current biggest and up-and-coming artists for their hard work. The most significant award of the night was the Album of the Year award. Many big names were nominated including Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and others.

However, many were shocked when they heard Jon Batiste’s name called at the end of the night for his album We Are. Many felt their favorite albums were snubbed or had no idea who Jon Batiste was. Batiste received backlash from fans who felt their favorite artists were more deserving of the winning title. Many users took to Twitter to share their disappointment. One user, nt1tc, replied to  a tweet that announced Batiste’s win, “y’all be giving Grammys to anybody.” Despite not being as well known as other nominees, Batiste’s album was just as good as every other nominee’s. But who is John Batiste?

Batiste was born on Nov. 11, 1986, in Louisiana. Batiste was born into a family of professional musicians, playing the drums with his family band, Batiste Brothers Band, at age eight. Upon his mother’s suggestion, Batiste began to learn piano through classical music lessons and converting songs from video games like Street Fighter Alpha and Final Fantasy VII at age 11. At age 17, Batiste had released his first album, Times in New Orleans

Batiste went on to receive his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School. While attending Julliard, Batiste went on to release his second album, Live in New York: At The Rubin Museum of Art. At around 20, Batiste held music clinics, classes, and workshops in inner-city schools and for the underprivileged in the Netherlands. 

Around this time, he had also become a part of a New York-based band called Stay Human. The name comes from the idea that human interaction during live music performances can uplift humanity amongst the wide set “plug in/tune out” mindset in society. The band started by performing in very small locations like the subway without asking for money, which Batiste called “Love Riots.”  

In 2011, the band released an album titled MY N.Y which was recorded entirely on the New York City Subway trains. The band also went on to perform at the March For Science rally at the Washington Monument in Washington DC in 2017. 

Batiste is well known by most for being the bandleader on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” In 2016, he was on the Forbes 30 under 30 music list. He has also been awarded the American Jazz Museum Lifetime Achievement Award, the Movado Future Legend Award, and the Harry Chapin ASCAP Humanitarian Award.

Not only did Batiste win five Grammys this year, but he was also the most nominated artist with 11 different nominations this year. He is also the first Black artist to win the Album of The Year Award since Herbie Hancock in 2008. 

Batiste also notably worked on music for major animated films as well, having composed the music for the Disney Pixar movie Soul. The music is a crucial part of this film, as well as inspiring some of the music for his award-winning album We Are off the film. His work on the film Soul has gained him mass amounts of attention in the movie and music industry. Quite a few of his Grammy nominations and wins came from his beautiful work on this animation. He has won several other awards for his work on this film, such as the Academy Award for Best Original Score and Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.

His Grammy award-winning album is an underappreciated masterpiece and is very different from most music we hear these days. We Are is an album based on Batiste’s life from his childhood in New Orleans all the way up to his adulthood in New York City. The album has mostly a jazz background with mixed elements of soul, hip-hop, R&B, pop, rap, and more, something Batiste called “Genreless Music.” Batiste says his album “celebrates Black American culture and music while exploring themes of lineage, authenticity, excellence, and evolution.” 

The album, released in June of 2020, was also released around the same time that the protests against police brutality began to rise. Batiste held a march in 2020 in New York City called “We Are – A Peaceful Protest March With Music.” 

Batiste, when asked about the timing of his album release, told Atwood Magazine, “Well, we wanted to release it at that time, but it was something that felt right to put out at that moment.” 

This album is loved by critics and noncritics alike. Spill Magazine said, “Often nostalgic for other eras and artists, Batiste remains truly unique as he joins the class of Kendrick Lamar, Anderson, Paak, and Gary Clark Jr. only in the sense that We Are is a record unlike anything else in the last decade and could only have been written by Batiste.” 

Batiste’s creativity and talent go far past being the bandleader on “The Late Night Show with  Stephen Colbert.” Batiste is bringing back unique, heartful, feel-good music to the mainstream. Batiste is painfully underrated and we are glad to see the Academy give credit where it is due. This album has meaning and power behind it and we cannot wait to see what Batiste does next.