Johnathan Celestin is the kind of guy who, as you stumble into Starbucks still a little angry that you just missed the connecting 1 train at 96th, will hold his arms out and offer you a hug. Then, with an easy smile and his dark curly hair pulled back into a ponytail, he’ll launch into the incredible story of how he became not just a rising senior at the School of General Studies, but also a successful musician with an album titled “And Then The Rolling Stone Fell in Love,” due out May 1.
At age 18, Celestin, then a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, went to see pianist Robert Glasper accompany vocalist Ledisi. The concert alone “literally changed [Celestin’s] life,” bringing tears to his eyes while watching the pair perform. He decided to head to New York and become a musician a few days later.
“I was thinking ‘OK, Johnathan, what do you want to do with your life?’ And my heart answered, like a physical reaction, that I wanted to pursue music. So I dropped all of my classes and moved to New York,” said Celestin.
Upon moving to New York at age 20, Celestin stayed in a hostel, where he worked as a janitor to pay his living fees on top of working a retail job and auditioning for musicals to further his musical career. He describes the living space as strongly influencing his New York experience. “The pipes would burst every night because we were in the basement, so everything we had we would have to keep on our beds. Everything I owned I pretty much slept with,” Celestin said.
The conditions of the hostel were so inhospitable that after a few months, Celestin came down with pneumonia and was put in the hospital. However, despite the dire state of things,
Celestin maintained a positive attitude. “It was a pretty low point for me in my life, but even though I was in a physically low place, I was good spiritually. I stayed positive, I told myself while I was in the hospital that that moment would be a moment that I had to appreciate life,” he said. In a twist of fate, when Celestin left the hospital and checked the messages on his phone, he received his first acceptance into a New York show.
Since then, Celestin’s fortune has flipped: He has done Broadway tours, has worked with several singer-songwriters and producers, and has built a small but strong fanbase. In addition, he became a student at Columbia, juggling academics and his musical career. On maintaining this balance, Celestin said that he “switched from an or person to an and person. I believe that I can do this and this, not this or that. I’m integrating my music and my schoolwork now.”
The crossover between music and school goes further: Celestin intends to use the sales from his album, which will be released May 1, to help pay for his tuition.
Named “And Then the Rolling Stone Fell in Love,”, the four-track album is a deeply personal reflection on the first time Celestin, the “rolling stone,” fell in love.
“I’ve done tons of songs like pieces of fiction, but this album is a recount of something that actually happened to me. It’s me telling people about something that was very personal, and
I hope that they hear the honesty in it and the relatability, so it can help them to get through it, too,” Celestin said.