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Black Music Month: Justin Rendell

Black Music Month: Justin Rendell

When a door opens, one should be ready to maximize the opportunity. Just as local saxophonist Justin Rendell.
Doors have been opening continuously over the last two and half years for Rendell and lucky for him he has been ready to take on what has been presented to him with no questions asked. It was listening to the signs that were given to him that has allowed his music dreams to unfold.
Rendell is the newest member of the Michael Foster Project. The saxophonist joined the band about two and a half years ago right as he was set to graduate from LSU with his Master’s degree in music.
“I reached out to John Gray my last semester at LSU. I told him that I was getting ready to graduate and I needed some type of opportunity to actually put to work what I had been learning in school and he was like ‘let me call you back in 10 minutes.’ This had to be on a Thursday or Friday,” said Rendell. “He called me back in 10 minutes and said, ‘what are you doing Saturday?’ I said nothing and he said you are on the gig for Saturday. And from there it has been going ever since.”
Having the chance to play with one of the hottest bands in Baton Rouge may not have happened had Rendell not fallen last alphabetically when his middle school teacher asked the class to pick an instrument they would like to play.
Rendell had his mind set on playing the drums when this question was presented to him, but with five other students in front of him with the same idea, all the drums were gone when it came to him. He was left with the only other instrument he could think of.  That instrument was the saxophone.

When he chose the saxophone, he says his teacher told him she knew he would pick that one. From that moment on a relationship formed between Justin and his saxophone.
Throughout the years following, music was Rendell’s number one priority and was something he knew he wanted to do for the rest of his life. However, when he got to Southern University for college he had a moment where he thought music wasn’t going to be his path.
“It was during college where I just put it down. I thought it’s really not for me, it’s something I just like to do, it’s just a hobby,” said Rendell. “Let me put it down and major in architect or mass communications. Anything else but music. I didn’t think people would take me seriously as other musicians and I was frustrated where I was in my music. I felt I was putting in work, but I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”
The Baton Rouge native says it was a series of signs that brought him back to his first love, music.
It was a counselor and music professor at Southern that got Rendell focused back on his music. Although he graduated from Southern in 2012 with a degree in mass communications, the music never really left him while in school. He says he took a lot of extra classes that were music courses and he was going back and forth with himself about his major, but it wasn’t until his counselor pointed out what may be his true heart’s desire. Sign number one.
Rendell had a music professor, Patti Martin, at Southern that lent him her soprano saxophone because at the time he didn’t have one. Over the break following that semester, he received a phone call from her family notifying him that Martin had passed away, but that they wanted him to have her saxophone. Sign number two.
“I knew right then, that it was bigger than me and that there was a mission attached to this,” said Rendell.
A few weeks later when he returned back to school, a random lady walked up to him and said, “You got to do what God is telling you to do. Now is the time to do.” Sign number three.
“I took all of this as a sign. I will finish in mass comm from Southern and then I made a promise to myself,” said Rendell. “I am going to get another degree in music, my master’s, and I’m going to see what happens, and from that point, from grad school up until now, doors have been opening from left to right.”
For everything that has happened for Rendell musically, it started from an opportunity that presented itself and he went with it. “That is how life is sometimes. You have to go with the flow. You don’t really have time to ask questions if it’s what you want,” said Rendell.
Rendell is on the road to making his mark on the music scene here in Baton Rouge and beyond. Not only is he a current member of the Michael Foster Band, but he also teaches a music and media course at Istrouma High. He also teaches at two music camps on music production at both Istrouma High and Southern University, but it doesn’t stop there, Rendell is working on some production projects with some up and coming artists outside of Baton Rouge.
We had a chance to sit down with Rendell to get to know a little more about this amazing local artist during our celebration of Black Music Month.
How did you get started in music?
I guess it is more of, when did I discover it. It was always there. It was a family tradition to have the boom box out playing Kenny G or something. I guess it was in my early years, around 7 or 8 years old, that I realized I really loved music. Where ever I went I had this recorded my mom got me for Christmas. It had a little microphone hooked up to it and I would walk around saying little things and making jingles. That’s when I realized I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
How did you feel when you landed the gig with the Michael Foster Project?
It felt good. It just fits. I have sat in and played with other bands, but you get to a point where you get with a group of people and it is just natural and you can vibe. That’s when I knew  I could settle right here. It is an amazing group of guys, like a family. We crack jokes and have fun on stage.
Who are some Baton Rouge or Louisiana artists that inspire you?
Locally John Gray from Michael Foster Project. I am learning so much from being around him. Not just musically but business-wise, like the way you conduct yourself in certain formal settings. He is a well-balanced guy.
Who is your musical role model/inspiration?
I would have to say J-Cole. He is one of my favorite rap artists. Despite being famous and having a lot of money, he still has a humble spirit. And he kind of reminds me of myself. If you look at him he doesn’t even dress lavishly. He rides a bike to get around. That is what I hope to continue as I grow, just being that humble.
Outside of music, who has been your biggest motivator?
My mother. Hands down.
What were you planning to do when you put down the music and majored in mass communication?
Probably radio. While in school I was interning at a radio station. But I can’t lie, music was always there. Crazy how life works, I never knew all that mass comm consisted of, but it has come full circle.
What is something Baton Rouge has taught you?
Just by looking at a lot of local artists that I was around, being so close, and now they are famous or doing a lot of big things. Just seeing that they started from a certain point and they stayed persistent and followed their dreams and look where they are. For example, I am not going to say I was homeboys with these people, but I was in close circles with these people. I was close enough to watch and see what they were doing. Like Boosie, he went to McKinley High, I went to McKinley High. He wouldn’t know me but just watching his success, I can see that I can do it too. Kevin Gates, another example, riding on the bus with him going to school. He doesn’t know me, but I was watching him. I felt like I can do the same thing and I will do the same.
How does it feel when you perform here at home?
It feels good. It’s one of those things, people come up to you and say ‘wow you play with the Michael Foster Project. You are doing so well, I’m watching you.’ People are watching little ole’ me, but to other people, it can be inspiring.
One thing we should all understand about Baton Rouge?
Just because it is small doesn’t mean you don’t have opportunities. The southern hospitality is like no other. I haven’t been anywhere that had the type of hospitality as here. And the food is really good.
What do you like to do for fun in Baton Rouge?
I’m actually more of a home-body when I’m not on the stage. I will sit at home and have my brothers or close friends over, or I will sit at home making beats, you know doing something musically.
Where is your favorite place to eat?
Ooooo… What am I in the mood for right now? It depends on the mood. I love Capitol City Grill, Tsunami, Kona Grill, Superior Grill, Schlitz n’ Giggles, Rock N Sake, Chimes… You want me to keep going? lol
Favorite time of the year here in Baton Rouge?
Crawfish and shrimp season
What is your Louisiana staple food?
LOUISIANA? Oh, come on, Crawfish!
What advice would you tell upcoming artists here in Baton Rouge?
Be yourself. You don’t have to be like the next person in order to gain success. When I was 17 years old that was a little phase I went through. I figured if I could make a song like this artist I can get out of Baton Rouge. But then you realize that those people are just being them to a certain degree. But to the young people, just be yourself. You will be surprised what you will find in yourself that you can share with the world, that they want to see, and have been waiting on.
So, what are you working on now?
Working on a coming up tour and producing with some new artists that could open doors for other industry artists.
How do you celebrate Black Music Month?
I celebrate it every day, it is so deeply rooted in our culture. People don’t even realize it. I mean you can go all the way back to the beginning of time before people could talk, there was some type of music. Music is a form of expression. If you aren’t familiar with that culture, dabble in it and give it a try.
Be sure to keep up with Rendell on social media at @justinrendell on Instagram and Facebook.

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