LAS VEGAS — Jon Batiste came out on top at the 64th Grammy Awards on Sunday night, taking home five trophies—the most by any artist this year—including the most prestigious, Album of the Year, for his groundbreaking “WE ARE” release.
The 35-year-old jazzer-turned-crooner is the first Black artist to win that category since his fellow jazz pianist Herbie Hancock in 2008.
“The creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most,” Batiste said during his acceptance speech—having himself been recently noted for his music’s uplifting effect in his own life as his wife suffered from dual leukemia diagnoses (including one just before their wedding last month).
“It’s almost like a song or an album is made and it almost has a radar.”
Batiste's own musical range is extensive, reflected in his 11 total nominations covering six different genres across two albums. That count led all nominees and was tied for the second-most ever in a single year.
Batiste’s own roots were also on display throughout awards season, as he is a proud New Orleans native and graduate of the Josephites’ St Augustine High, a Black Catholic school whose headline-making marching band was featured on the “WE ARE” album’s title track.
Batiste’s religious upbringing is no mystery, with Christian themes sprinkled throughout his music over his 24-year career. He was raised Catholic in one of New Orleans’ most historic jazz families—some of whom were involved with “WE ARE”. They were thanked, alongside God, during his AOTY acceptance speech.
“My grandfather’s on the album… my nephews,” Batiste said.
“There’s so many people that went into making this album… I didn’t do it by myself.”
While his fame has grown exponentially over the past year-plus—with wins at last year’s Academy, Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, BAFTA, and Annie Awards for his work on “Soul” —it reached a new peak last night with his live rendition of “FREEDOM”, replete with gospel-style backing vocals, extensive choreography (with a brief foray to the piano), and all the trappings of a star.
In the wake of his showing this year, the internet was abuzz with praise for his distinct style and persona. Onlookers likely will be for years to come.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).