Jon Batiste and Suleika Jaouad tied the knot in 2022
Jon Batiste is one of the most talented and versatile musicians of his generation. He has been playing musical instruments since he was just 8 years old and has worked with iconic artists like Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder and Prince, in addition to releasing music of his own.
By his side through it all has been his wife, Suleika Jaouad. Jaouad is a New York Times bestselling author, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and a motivational speaker.
The couple first met as teenagers at band camp and reconnected 12 years later while Jaouad was receiving treatment for leukemia. They eventually tied the knot in February 2022.
Batiste and Jaouad are normally a very private couple. However, they gave fans a glimpse into their relationship in the Netflix documentary American Symphony, which follows Batiste ahead of his 2022 Carnegie Hall performance.
Jaouad also accompanied Batiste to the 66th Grammy Awards in February 2024 after she was unable to go to the ceremony in 2022 since she was recovering from a bone marrow transplant. She was by his side on the red carpet dressed in a black gown.
From her work as a writer to her cancer diagnosis, here's everything to know about Suleika Jaouad and her relationship with Jon Batiste.
According to her personal website, Jaouad attended the pre-college program for the double bass at The Juilliard School. She then earned her B.A. from Princeton University, where she played in the University Orchestra, and an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College.
Jaouad had just graduated from Princeton University when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a form of leukemia that targets the blood and bone marrow. According to a March 2021 interview with Health magazine, she was given a 35% chance of survival.
She documented her experience as a young adult battling cancer in the New York Times column and video series, Life, Interrupted, which went on to win an Emmy Award.
"Cancer has forced me to pause my life at a time when my peers are just beginning theirs," she wrote in her debut piece for the column. "Like my peers, I have yet to fully define who I want to become. But as a young cancer patient, it's difficult to see ahead when I'm fighting for my life. I don't know what the future holds. I just know I want to be there."
The pair first met when she was 13 and he was 14 at band camp, which Jaouad called "the most awkward place on earth," in a 2020 Instagram post.
The pair reconnected when Batiste visited her in the hospital while she was receiving treatment for her leukemia.
"To my surprise, he showed up with his entire band," she wrote in a piece for her column. "Every inch of the 25-room floor was filled with music. Timidly at first, and then with jubilation, patients, nurses and other hospital workers began to dance and clap. The oncology ward was breathing a sigh of relief, its inhabitants rejoicing in a temporary timeout, losing themselves to the beauty and healing power of the music. I was beaming beneath my face mask. The saints had marched in. And they played that song, too."
During a 2021 appearance on the PEOPLE Every Day podcast, Batiste revealed that his relationship with Jaouad served as the inspiration for his emotional track, "Show Me the Way."
"It speaks to a lot of me growing up and also our relationship," he explained. "It's a beautiful thing to have — that piece of our relationship sliced off into the album."
He also shared that their bond had deepened during quarantine. "Obviously there's so much loss that we've faced individually and collectively, but I find that this time has also been a blessing in that it gives us a break to be with each other," he said.
In October 2022, the couple posted a sweet video of Batiste singing a different, but also wonderful, song to his wife: Billie Holiday's "I'll Be Seeing You." In the video, the musician wraps his arm around Jaouad as they walk together. "The proper way to board a plane ????," Batiste captioned the joint post.
In December 2021, Jaouad announced in her newsletter that her leukemia had returned and she was undergoing chemotherapy, with a bone marrow transplant scheduled.
"When I got the biopsy results, it felt like a sinkhole opened up and swallowed everything," she wrote. "Within 72 hours, Jon and I packed our things, found friends to care for Oscar and Loulou, gave copies of our keys to our neighbor, canceled work and cleared our schedules, and were on our way to the hospital in New York City."
She later shared a picture of herself and Batiste lying in a hospital bed on Instagram. She captioned the selfie, "First 72 hours in the bone marrow transplant unit: co-sleeping in a tiny hospital bed, painting, prank calling (including—by request—a nurse's boyfriend), blood draws and bags of chemo, hospital room choreographies and hallway laps (14 = a mile), and never not rubbing my newly bald head."
After a quiet few months on social media, Jaouad gave followers an update about her medical journey, writing, "I've been on a long break from anything internet related for the last month. I've resumed chemo, and I've been resting, reading novels, hanging out with my new road dog River (more on her soon!), and spending time with family."
She included a sweet photo of herself kissing her new dog and finished the post with, "P -
.S. I have eyebrows now!"
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jaouad was hospitalized amid her cancer treatment. At the time, family members weren't allowed to visit patients, so Batiste turned to music to stay connected to his wife. The lullabies he wrote her have since inspired the song "Butterfly," which appears on his album World Music Radio.
“It’s just such a personal narrative song in relation to my life and what my family has gone through and my wife and all of the things she’s been able to overcome,” Batiste told PEOPLE.
In September 2023, Batiste appeared on Sherri and gave the TV host an update on his wife's health.
"It's a miracle. She’s doing so much better after her bone marrow transplant," he said. "Everything is going as great as it can go, and we just pray that it continues.”
Batiste and Jaouad revealed on CBS Sunday Morning that they had secretly tied the knot in February 2022 ahead of her bone marrow transplant.
"We got married the day before I was admitted to the hospital to undergo my bone marrow transplant," Jaouad said, adding that Batiste's decision to propose wasn't particularly influenced by her illness.
"We have known that we wanted to get married, I think, from the first week that we started dating. That's when Jon first brought up the topic of marriage to me. So, we've had eight years," Jaouad added. "This is not, you know, a hasty decision!"
Batiste provided more information about their wedding at the TIME 100 Gala on June 8, 2022, where he was honored as one of TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World.
He told PEOPLE that they decided to get married in their own home because "it has been a place we go to replenish our soul."
"We built something very, very special. It's the combination of both of us," he said. "It's the perfect blend of all of our experiences together, and all of our ancestral experiences coming together. And it's amazing that we have that in the midst of this time."
He also praised Jaouad's strength, saying, "You wouldn't think that she is going through what she's going through when you see her. She has this ability to take the toughest challenges and make it life-affirming. So, with her it's a special case. How she's doing, it's a Suleika thing."
Like her husband, Jaouad is truly a multi-hyphenate.
She is the best-selling author of Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted, which, "traces her journey from diagnosis to remission and, ultimately, a road trip of healing and self-discovery."
In an interview with The New York Times, she said she doesn't regard her book as a cancer book. "It's really about what it means to heal — what it actually takes to move forward when your life has been upended by some kind of rupture," she explained.
Jaouad's essays and reported features have also been published in a variety of publications, including The Atlantic, The Guardian, Vogue and NPR, among others.
On top of being a talented writer, she is also a skilled painter and was previously an artist in residence at ArtYard, Ucross and the Kerouac Project. In March 2022, she announced her 100-Day Project, in which she planned to create an original painting every day for 100 days as she underwent treatment. She documented the challenge on Instagram, sharing her finished work and photos of her painting from her hospital bed.
Jaouad shares her story through various speaking engagements across the globe as well. Her TED Talk, which discusses life after cancer, has garnered nearly five million views.
She has channeled her experience with cancer into advocacy and she now works to help those affected by the illness. Jaouad has served on Barack Obama's Presidential Cancer Panel, the Bone Marrow and Cancer Foundation and the national advisory board of Family Reach. She is also passionate about other charitable causes and issues including social justice, prison reform and more. She was awarded the Red Door Advocacy & Community Service Award and honored by the Brooklyn Public Library, alongside Batiste, for their contributions to music and literature.
Batiste and Jaouad visited the White House on Dec. 1, 2022, for the first State dinner of President Biden's administration. Batiste, accompanied by his father, Michael Batiste, performed at the event, which was held in a super-sized tent on the White House South Lawn.
The Grammy winner wore a tuxedo to the dinner while Jaouad was photographed in a long yellow gown and sparkly heels.
American Symphony follows Batiste ahead of his orchestral debut at Carnegie Hall and Jaouad as she faces a cancer resurgence.
"We’re both very private people, but more than that, especially with the illness piece, we didn’t know how the story was going to end,” Jaouad told PEOPLE ahead of the documentary's premiere in November 2023. “But that, for both of us, even though it wasn’t necessarily comfortable, was part of the appeal of telling our story this way. We wanted to show what it means to be in the trenches of uncertainty, to have to hold that duality of light — the astonishingly beautiful things that are happening and the astonishingly hard ones in the same palm.”
Batiste added: “It really is hard for me to watch it. But it’s very powerful the way it all came together.”