Graduate student John Uzodinma became an overnight sensation after his emotive violin rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at the Mississippi House of Representatives on March 19 went viral on Facebook.
While Uzodinma said he could tell the crowd was impressed by their standing ovation and thunderous applause, he said he was shocked to see that readers of news outlets like the New York Post, Fox 13 News, MSN and even the Australian enjoyed the performance as well.
Mississippi State Representative Missy McGee posted the original clip and commented Uzodinma’s musicality was a “great way to start the day.” Views on the video peaked when it was shared on Fox News. As of April 1, the video had 162,000,000 views and 11,000 comments on the Fox News Facebook page.
“I remember being surprised by 6,000 views,” Uzodinma said. “Each day I kept calling my parents, like, ‘Mom and Dad, do you see how many views it has now?”
The March 19 performance was just a few days before Uzodinma’s birthday.
“It was a great birthday present,” Uzodinma said. “Every morning the whole week I would wake up and see the views had gone up. I know I won’t ever forget it.”
Uzodinma grew up in Madison, Mississippi, and obtained his undergraduate degree in violin performance from the University of Southern Mississippi. The mass circulation of his performance video opened the door for Uzodinma to go back and perform at his alma mater, and also has led to numerous other job offers.
Uzodinma said LSU was an easy choice to get his master’s degree because of his personal connections to some faculty members and its close proximity to his home state. One of his favorite things about the University so far is the personal attention provided by the School of Music instructors.
“I can call my teacher anytime and go to his studio and get multiple lessons in a week,” Uzodinma said. “I feel like all of the teachers are very personable and I get a lot of attention.”
Uzodinma has performed the national anthem for audiences since high school, but said he still gets nervous when asked to play the iconic tune. And while he generally tries to stick to the traditional notes, he occasionally adds a riff for personal flair. Rarely does he play the same version twice.
“I’m always nervous before the national anthem because everyone knows it,” Uzodinma said. “We all learn it as children, so there’s a lot of pressure.”
One reason people might have enjoyed the video so much, Uzodinma said, is because violin is not traditionally a part of the national anthem. Even Uzodinma himself said he has never seen a live violin performance of the song and has only watched performances on YouTube. It is increasingly uncommon for anyone other than a singer to perform the anthem, and when instruments are used, it is more popular to have a full orchestra.
Uzodinma said he chose the violin because the instrument’s sound reminds him most of a human voice. While he has some singing experience and formerly participated in show choir, he does not consider himself an especially talented vocalist.
“I would love to be an amazing singer, but I’m not,” Uzodinma said. “I think through the violin, I’m able to communicate and make people feel something.”
Uzodinma began playing the violin in the third grade, when his school offered string classes. He also played the trumpet in his high school marching band, and learned some piano during his undergraduate years. Music is his passion, and he said he never considered majoring in anything else.
“I begged my parents for a year before they let me start taking lessons,” Uzodinma said. “I just practiced a lot. My parents never had to tell me to. I always just had that drive.”
Fortunately, Uzodinma said he was surrounded by supportive friends and family members who told him he should use his gift to study music in college. Some people suggested he double major as a fallback, but his parents always encouraged him to pursue what he really wanted. Uzodinma’s biggest struggle with choosing a music career was within himself.
“I question if I’ll make it,” Uzodinma said. “I mean, it’s tough out there and there’s a lot of competition in the world. But with all of this happening, I’ve gotten a lot more encouraged.”
He also said he firmly believes everything happens for a reason and people with the gift of music should try to share it with the world.
“If you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else in the world but music, than do it,” Uzodinma said. “I believe everything happens for a reason, and if that is what you are really dedicated and passionate about, then it will come to pass.”