Local Obituaries

Violinist Romel Joseph, survivor of Haiti earthquake, dies at 56

Romel Joseph, a blind violinist who survived the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti after spending 18 hours pinned under concrete, played the violin at the rehabilitation center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in March 2010, just a few months after treatment.
Romel Joseph, a blind violinist who survived the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti after spending 18 hours pinned under concrete, played the violin at the rehabilitation center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in March 2010, just a few months after treatment. For The Miami Herald

Music saved Antoine Romel Joseph’s life. In particular, My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music.

“That’s the song that saved me,” Joseph told the Miami Herald from Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital in March 2010, two months after he was buried in the rubble of the Haiti earthquake.

More than five years after capturing the hearts of the world with his tale of survival and pluck, Joseph, born nearly blind in Gros Mornes, Haiti, has died at 56.

On Oct. 5, his daughter Victoria posted a message on Facebook asking for prayers for her father who had suffered a stroke while in Haiti. Hours later, the social media site turned into a memorial, filled with messages of condolence.

“I think for a lot of people, he kind of became the face of survival,” said Jennifer Piedra, director of communications at Jackson Health System. Piedra befriended Joseph and his children, musicians Victoria and Bradley, who survive him, almost immediately after Joseph was airlifted to the hospital.

“He was one of the first patients I met, and from that first moment I knew that this man was extremely special,” she said. “He had been through this horribly traumatic situation and yet he was so positive. He had lost his wife, but he was already talking about getting better so he could play his music again and rebuild his school. That was his mission in life — to help others.”

Less than a year after his ordeal, the Juilliard-trained violinist who split his time between Miami and Haiti published The Miracle of Music. He earmarked the book’s proceeds to help build a performing arts center in his country.

Joseph, wed to his second wife Myslie, who was pregnant with their child, was standing on the balcony of the New Victorian School in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Turgeau when hell stormed Haiti.

Pinned in rubble for 18 hours, he turned to music, mentally reciting every concerto he had ever played, reliving the beauty of Brahms, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic became a healer: I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.

Superstar Stevie Wonder, touched by a report on CNN, sent Joseph his keyboard to help him keep his injured hand nimble. “I look forward to hearing you play violin as soon as your fingers get stronger. Because I know you will play again,” Wonder said in a video he sent to Joseph’s hospital room.

Joseph would play again. Beautifully.

“One life ended Jan. 12, and another started. This one is going to be more interesting and creative,” he said in July 2010, from Port-au-Prince, where he envisioned a new arts center. “People here need music, music education. That’s my life dream for Haiti.”

That was his mission in life — to help others. He had a profound impact on me.

Jennifer Piedra, director of communications at Jackson Health System.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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