The Soloist Overcame His Homelessness with A Little Help from His Friends and Family

 By Diane Robinson

Nathaniel Ayers is a talented African American musician, who was diagnosed with a severe mental illness and ended up homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. He was the subject of Steve Lopez’s best-selling book, The Soloist as well as the movie based on that book starring Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Ayers.

Here is what I found on the internet about Ayers: 

“Nathaniel Ayers grew up working class in Cleveland. His love of music began when he was a teenager in Ohio where he was a student at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, where he studied the double-bass.  His interest continued when he enrolled as a double-bass student at the prestigious Julliard School for the Performing Arts in New York City the 1970s. His dream was music, and his hard work, allowed him to play for a time in the same orchestra as Yo-Yo Ma.

While on scholarship at Julliard, Ayers started showing signs of schizophrenia. He dropped out and moved from New York, to Ohio, Colorado and eventually Los Angeles. Along the way, he would sometimes call Harry Barnoff, his teacher at the Cleveland Music School Settlement and talk about music.

The journey he began with Mr. Lopez began in 2005 when Lopez heard Ayers, who was homeless at the time, playing a violin on a busy downtown street in Los Angeles. Lopez, a journalist, and Ayers developed a friendship over time. In addition to writing about Ayers and finding ways for him to pursue music, Lopez also introduced Ayers to social services that could help him move off the street.”

His sister started a foundation in his name after the movie and all the articles about him.  I, like Nathaniel Ayers, am African American, was raised in Ohio (from the age of 5 on) and have been homeless.  Like Ayers, I love music (especially jazz and Barry White). Unlike him, I have no musical ability. I can’t sing and I don’t play a musical instrument. Ayers illness was schizophrenia, mine is blindness. With help from others, both individuals and social service organizations, we were able to overcome homelessness.   It takes patience and some agencies plugged into housing resources to make this work.


I am intelligent and creative, and although I’m not able to do some of the things I used to love – drawing and sewing - I have not let my blindness stop me from learning new skills – knitting and reading Braille.  Intelligent, smart and musical, Nathaniel Ayers hasn’t let his mental health issues stop him from doing what he loved – making music.  

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle September 2016 Issue 23.3 Cleveland, Ohio.