A Julliard-trained musician who spent years sleeping on downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row plans to spend the evening at a much nicer address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Schizophrenia led Nathaniel Ayers to skid row. His efforts to spread the word about mental health issues led him to the White House.
Washington is marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The planners of that observance invited Ayers to perform for President Obama on the White House lawn, along with Patti LaBelle and Marlee Matlin.
It’s another big step for the violinist most Angelenos first met in Steve Lopez’ LA Times columns. Since then, there’s been a book and a film starring Jamie Foxx as Ayers. The real Nathaniel Ayers is a regular at Disney Hall rehearsals, where he’s rubbed shoulders with Yo-Yo Ma and Esa-Pekka Solonen. No word on whether he was nervous about meeting the President.
As with most everything in Nathaniel Ayers’ life, a few stumbling blocks preceded the applause. In this case, his violin strings were out of tune. But eventually, he was satisfied. For his White House appearance Ayers, wearing an ivory suit and bowler hat. He then began to play.
As he welcomed Ayres, and other guests, President Obama referred to a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Rhode Island Governor Stephen Hopkins had palsy; he said "my hands tremble, but my heart does not."