Jon Batiste is a musician, activist and bandleader of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” He is part of the trio who won an Oscar for the score of the animated film, “Soul.” Batiste joins Washington Post senior critic-at-large Robin Givhan to discuss his win, his new album, “We Are,” and why he took his music to the streets of New York during the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd last year.


The way the main character of “Soul” moves his hands across the piano was inspired by Batiste. He said, “As the narrative unfolds and you see how the music comes together as a character in the film and it’s so prominent in telling the story. It really meant a lot because it was more than just scoring a film. It was really putting a piece of yourself into the film that’s going to be there for all time.” (Washington Post Live)
Batiste credited generations of musicians in his native Louisiana for bringing him into a tradition that helped inspire “Soul.” “It was surreal. It felt like a true milestone and so many generations of music makers in my family. So many generations of creators and a lot of family farmers, a lot of people who come from the indigenous Louisiana, coastal, creoles, indigenous peoples.. I mean just so much has really culminated into that moment. The music in soul being this love letter to jazz and to black culture and that form of musical expression being recognized in that way… it was a lot. I’m still processing it all.” (Washington Post Live)
Batiste said his performances during the George Floyd protests last year were inspired New Orleans’ communal expression through music, what he calls ‘social music.’ He said, “New Orleans is what I call… one of the homes of ‘social music’ in the world today. ‘Social music’ is this form of expression, the form of music before music was commodified and sold… When I’m doing these street performances, is bringing back social music and remembering the power of music as something in everyday life and in community, and not just as a form of entertainment or a commodity.” (Washington Post Live)

Jon Batiste

In 2020, Jon Batiste redefined what it means to be productive.

Recording and releasing two Grammy-nominated albums, check.

Cultural and social advocacy, check. Band leading and music directing on the Late Show, check.

Practicing, learning, sharing, growing, check.

Was he done there? Batiste? Nah.

He decided to build a studio in his dressing room at the renowned Ed Sullivan Theater and invited a few talented friends—including singer-songwriter Autumn Rowe and producer Kizzo—to lay the blueprint for what is destined to become a seminal masterpiece of black pop American music, his forthcoming album, WE ARE.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention, he put all of this together in 6 days? As I said, this guy redefined productivity.

He ended the year with his music and likeness being centrally featured in the Disney/Pixar film Soul. His composing and songwriting will be featured in his large-scale, genre-melding symphonic work “American Symphony,” set to premiere at Carnegie Hall in 2021 and he has been developing a broadway musical about the life of famed painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Jon balances a demanding performance schedule—which often includes his signature ‘love riot’ street parades—with public speaking engagements, masterclasses, brand partnerships, community activism, and acting roles. In the wake of George Floyd's murder and in the lead up to the election, he organized several peaceful protest marches, leading thousands in the streets of New York City. He played himself on the HBO series Tremé and appeared in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summerand Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Jon has been featured in ad campaigns for Chase Bank, the Apple Watch, Lincoln Continental, and numerous fashion brands including Coach, Gucci, Polo Ralph Lauren, Frye, Kate Spade, Jack Spade, and Barney’s. He has worked with photographers Bruce Weber and Annie Leibowitz, among others, and his personal style has been profiled in numerous fashion publications including GQ, Vanity Fair, CR Fashion Book, Esquire, Instyle, and Vogue. Jon is devoted to the education and mentorship of young musicians. He has led his own Social Music Residency and Mentoring Program sponsored by Chase, as well as master classes throughout the world. He has also led several cultural exchanges, beginning in 2006, while still a teen, with the Netherlands Trust, which brought students from the USA and Holland to perform with him at The Royal Concert Gebouw and Carnegie Hall.

He’s been awarded the American Jazz Museum Lifetime Achievement Award, the Harry Chapin ASCAP Humanitarian Award and appeared on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list; Batiste also currently serves as the Music Director of The Atlantic and the Co-Artistic Director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and is on the board of Sing For Hope.