As the G-Men gathered in the hotel lobby for a team dinner, the sounds of John Legend’s “Ordinary People” was being played on a black piano. It wasn’t Legend; it was freshman kicker and punter Jonathan Wallace.
“We were bored and the piano was just sitting there,” said Wallace, a Rayville native, “so I went over there and just started playing.”
It was the first time his teammates heard him play and the first time most knew he has musical talent. The 18-year-old sports management major learned to play by ear.
He listens to a song, matches the notes and finds the right scale.
When he was a freshman at Rayville High School, he decided he wanted to learn to play piano.
Though his father, Herman Wallace, is the band director at the school and his mother, Vanessa Wallace, sings at their Pine Hill Baptist Church, he didn’t take lessons. Instead, he sometimes used YouTube.
According to Michael Hendrix, Grambling State assistant professor of music and assistant band director, this is called “playing by ear” and is seen frequently in African-American communities.
Hendrix was self-taught in the beginning and says the majority of people learn from their church.
“A lot of us know how to play in church first,” said Hendrix. “Its (also) prevalent in African-American communities because they teach themselves how to play by ear instead of seeking professional help.”
Other professional athletes Hendrix mentioned who used the same technique as Wallace are former basketball players in the NBA, Grant Hill and Wayman Tisdale.
As Santoria Black walked through the lobby of the Kansas City Marriott, he heard someone playing and thought, “Who is that playing?” When he turned the corner and saw Wallace he smiled.
“You see tremendous athletes all the time who have hidden talents,” said Black, sports information director at Grambling State. “I hate it when people say that athletes only play sports and are jocks.”
Wallace played several songs, including “Love Hate Thing” by Wale and “Holy Grail” by Jay Z. Several GSU football players gathered around him, cheering him on. Some even sang.
It was an unexpected, unscheduled moment as the Tigers prepared to play the Lincoln University Blue Tigers Saturday (Sept. 14, 2013) at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I enjoy listening to music,” added Wallace. “Unlike most people, I like to play the piano in my spare time instead of playing video games.”
According to Black, Wallace is a perfect example of how the “jock stereotype” is not true because there are athletes who have done more than just sports. During his time in Kansas City, Mo., for the Missouri Classic, Black had the opportunity to work with former NFL linebacker Gary Spani.
“Look at Gary Spani, he is working in the front office for the Kansas City Chiefs” as the director of tickets and events,” added Black.
“If we took the time to get to know these athletes, we will discover what else they can do besides throwing the ball or kicking it.”