Nathaniel Ayers

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Nathaniel Ayers
Birth nameNathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr.
Born (1951-01-31) January 31, 1951 (age 72)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Instrument(s)Double bass, Violin, Cello, Drums, Piano

Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. (born January 31, 1951) is an American musician. He is the subject of numerous newspaper columns, a book, and a 2009 film adaptation based on the columns. A foundation bearing his name was started in 2008 with an aim to support artistically gifted people with mental illness.[1]

School and severe mental health crisis[edit]

Ayers began playing the double bass[2] during middle school. He attended the Juilliard School in New York as a double bassist,[3] but had a mental breakdown during his second year and was institutionalized. Ayers was one of the few black students at Juilliard at that time.

For some years he lived with his mother in Cleveland, Ohio, where he received electroconvulsive therapy for his illness to no avail. After his mother's death in 2000, he moved to Los Angeles, thinking that his father lived there. Homeless and debilitated with symptoms of schizophrenia, Ayers lived and played music on the streets.[4]

The Soloist[edit]

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez met Ayers at Pershing Square in 2005, and discovered his background at Juilliard. Lopez wrote several columns about his relationship with Ayers, and Nathaniel's slow transition out of homelessness. Lopez's subsequent book, The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, was based on his relationship with Ayers.

The book has been adapted into a film and a play titled The Soloist, released April 24, 2009, with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. in the lead roles. In the film, Ayers is depicted as a cellist, rather than a bassist.[5]

Ayers and Lopez's relationship was also nationally highlighted in the March 22, 2009, episode of 60 Minutes on CBS.[6][7]

The Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation[edit]

Ayers's sister, Jennifer Ayers-Moore, is the chairwoman and founder of the Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation.[8] The foundation, launched in 2008, began with Jennifer's desire to help what she and Nathaniel hope will be thousands of people. An endowment will be set up to continue their ability to keep the public awareness about mental health at the forefront of the nation's consciousness. The NAAF will facilitate the appreciation of the contributions that artistic expression make to the advancement of wellness and treatment, collaborate with mental health and arts organizations to identify and exhibit the work of the artistically gifted, and to provide for grants to worthy nonprofit organizations that embody the mission of the foundation.


  1. ^ "Schizophrenic Musician Inspires Film, Foundation". NPR. February 24, 2009.
  2. ^ Lewis, Zacahary. "Nathaniel Ayers' Cleveland-area teacher remembers a gifted student -". Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  3. ^ "Alumni News: October 2010". Archived from the original on 2011-11-11. Nathaniel Ayers ('72, double bass)
  4. ^ Lopez, Steve (17 April 2005). "Violinist Has the World on 2 Strings". LA Times. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  5. ^ "Mentally ill musician Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is subject of movie". The Plain Dealer. April 6, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-09-14.
  6. ^ "Steve Lopez on Nathaniel Anthony Ayers". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ "Mr. Lopez Meets Mr. Ayers", CBS
  8. ^ "The Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation". Retrieved April 20, 2009.

External links[edit]