Yonah Piatt is one of those young artists with a story that simply needs to be told. The 14-year-old Canadian pop singer is on the road to a shining music career. To see his chilled, easy manner and hear his seemingly effortless vocals, it would be natural to assume that Yonah has had a clear path to success. But like so many boys and young men who choose to follow their musical passions, Yonah is a fighter.
His mother tells me that even from the very beginning of his life Yonah has had the odds stacked against him. He was born prematurely and doctors had concerns about his future health. My own daughter was also born premature and there were some fairly serious issues around the birth so I can imagine the pain and heartache that this must have caused for the family. On the other hand, I can relate to the tremendous sense of relief and blessing when your baby pulls through and starts getting stronger by the day. You vow never to take a moment with your child for granted and Yonah’s family seem to have wonderfully lived that out.
I love to hear about the early childhood experiences of highly talented individuals. There are fascinating trends that I am beginning to draw (but that is a subject for another article!) Yonah’s mother was kind enough to share her earliest memories of Yonah’s musical blossoming:
“From a young age, he used to bang on his grandmas piano in the basement every time he visited her. He would sit in his car seat and ask for the songs on the radio to be turned up so he could sing to them. By the time he was 5, he was going through songs and picking ones that had a good beat and making his own playlists on an old iPod. He loved Usher and Drake and used to take his money to get CDs that weren’t even popular in the mainstream yet.
He took violin lessons and then he took piano lessons. He then wanted drums and a trumpet. He experimented with different beats and sounds.”
Facing the odds
Yonah clearly had a close and special relationship with his grandmother:
“His grandmother got dementia and moved in with us. She loved Justin Bieber so we took her to see the ‘Never Say Never’ movie. Half way through Yonah leans over and says, ‘I want to do this’”
And that’s what he did! Yonah began performing and engaging with social media audiences at 9-years-old and was subsequently connected with a local producer. In May 20, 2013 he released his first video, ‘Summer Vacation’. Have a look at where it all began!
Yonah connected with a rapper in San Diego who wanted to do a concert with him. That’s when he got connected with the renowned vocal coach, Mama Jan Smith (noted for teaching for Usher, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj) in Atlanta. Mama Jan started mentoring Yonah and guiding him in his career choices.
Getting knocked down – getting back up
I asked Yonah about some of the challenges he has faced:
“The hardest thing that I’ve had to deal with has been hitting puberty early. I’ve grown a foot in a year and my voice changed almost overnight on me. It’s like being in band for 4 years playing the trumpet and on the day before the big performance you get stuck with the guitar. The notes are the same but how you play your instrument is totally different. I’m still not used to how I’m supposed to hit the notes. Super frustrating.”
I am so grateful to Yonah for communicating this so honestly and articulately. Very few people appreciate how traumatic the voice change can be for a boy who lives and breathes singing. Folk will tend to say ‘it’s natural – what’s the big deal?’. Yes it’s natural, but so are other things like earthquakes, illness and death! This revelation is even more astounding in the context of the other struggles that Yonah has faced. For one so young, he has had more than his fair share of challenges.
There was a major family move that Yonah found very challenging.
“In 2014 Yonah’s dad got a job in TN and the family moved there. It was a hard time, having to leave Yonah’s grandmother behind in Toronto.”
While I know there must have been important new experiences, I can appreciate the upheaval that Yonah must have felt as my family moved to remote Highlands of Scotland at the same age that Yonah made his move to Tennessee. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of some tough times for Yonah:
“He returned to Toronto in December only to have his grandmother die a week after he arrived. That time was very hard for Yonah. His father stayed behind in TN while he lived with his mother in Toronto.
He started school in the fall. He was beaten up and ended up with a concussion. He decided to back away from social media, only to return again. In his absence his twitter account lost all 15,000 followers and basically he had to start everything from scratch.”
It is clear from Yonah’s story how passionate he is about his singing: after all he has been through, he told me that his voice change was the most stressful of all. I suspect many of my readers will be familiar with the shocking reality of what many children like Yonah have to endure daily, for others this will be a disturbing revelation. Far from being ‘sensitive wimps’, youngsters like Yonah are warriors!
In it to win it
“Yonah continues on his path, singing and making music videos. Most recently he recorded original song, “Girl Ur Mine” in LA with Kam Parker from Timeless Entertainment.
He recently spoke for TeenVogue on The Manchester attacks. Because of what he’s been through, he’s an anti bullying advocate. He was featured in Atlanta Teen Magazine and was recently verified on Spotify and is now homeschooled.”
Far from backing down, Yonah is going from strength to strength. He says:
“It’s a struggle. I’ve had a lot of things that have gotten in my way but I’m not giving up.”
I asked Yonah for his advice to other young people like him:
“I started this when I was 9. I think I’d tell them if they have a dream to go for it and not let anyone stop them. Stick with the positive people along the way and leave the haters behind
I’d like to thank Mama Jan for always being there, supporting me. She’s really strict but it’s because she cares so much. You don’t hear a lot of honesty in this business because there’s so many people trying to pretend to be nice to you, even adults. She just speaks the truth and I like that.”
Be sure to give your support to this incredible young man:
“Knowing how many people like my music keeps me going. I get dms from kids all over the world. I try to get to know the people who follow me. We are like a family.” Yonah Piatt