Actor and singer Leslie Odom, Jr.‘s voice has helped him win a Grammy, a Tony and be nominated for an Academy Award (make that two, actually) for his work. He’s using that voice now for one of his most important roles to date—motivating people to work toward prioritizing their heart health. It’s imperative as a heart attack occurs in the U.S. every 40 seconds according to studies, and one in four of them occur in people who’ve already had them.
Leslie and wife Nicolette Robinson, both actors and singers/songwriters, have partnered with Bayer Aspirin for their latest campaign, “Your Heart Isn’t Just Yours,” to craft an original song that celebrates heart attack survivors. The recently released tune, Second Chance, is inspired by her father, the patriarch of their family, Stuart K. Robinson, who is featured in the video for the original composition and whose heartbeat can be heard as a rhythm for it. He had a major heart event in 2008 and was rushed to the hospital where he found out that all four chambers of his heart had blockages, requiring stents. According to Leslie, his father waited too long to go to the doctor and he caught a serious situation, through a chronic cough that kept getting worse, just before it became a deadly one.
“He’s doing well now, but he takes a Bayer aspirin, doctor-directed every single day and he also made changes in his diet and his fitness routine,” he tells ESSENCE. The situation, which was terrifying for the family, was something they tried to move on from quickly. Working on this campaign gave the actor, his wife and his father-in-law the chance to really open up about how that situation affected them all.
“As a family we haven’t really talked about it since it happened. We kind of put it behind us and we didn’t really talk it about it anymore,” he says. “Through this campaign, I was able to ask Stewart questions of what was it like going into that surgery, what was he thinking about. For the first time I asked my wife questions about that period in our life. We were together at the time but we didn’t really talk about it. Out of superstition or whatever, we just put it away. But writing this song was the chance to look at it again and talk about it.”
They’re grateful to have him, through this second chance, experience everything Leslie and Nicolette have been able to accomplish since the event happened about 13 years ago. That includes their marriage, two children, bustling acting and singing careers on Broadway and in film and Oscar nominations. Leslie also could better appreciate his own blessings based on his father-in-law’s experience.
“As a father of a daughter now, I can understand what those moments mean to a dad. How special they are to get to witness and I hope that I’m as blessed and as lucky as Stew to get to see those moments for my little girl.”
He is already feeling lucky, as the star was able to be present at home for an extended period of time throughout the last year with daughter, Lucille and newborn son, Able, born in March. As the entertainment industry and most industries as a whole were forced to take a beat down during the pandemic, it was a forced timeout that would change the way he looks at balancing his career and his family life.
“That’s the longest I’ve ever been home ever since my kids were born,” he says. “I usually travel a whole lot more than that, too much admittedly. So to be home and to be of service and to discover ways to be of service to my family on the daily, ways I can be a better partner, ways I can show up and be a better dad, that’s invaluable stuff that won’t leave me anytime soon.”
He adds, “I plan to make changes and be more mindful of the time away, being more mindful about how much time I’m away.”
And after working together on “Second Chance,” he also looks forward to doing more work with Nicolette. Collaboration between the two has become more enjoyable since they first worked together at UCLA on Once on This Island in 2008, which was how they met.
“At first there was a little bit of like, ‘Oh you’re a reflection on me so let me get you together, help get you together,'” he says. “But I certainly realize that I’ve got plenty to work on. She’s going to take care of herself. How I can help her and me is make sure I have my harmonies together and that I’m straight. Working together is something we love to do and we always loved to do it but it wasn’t as easy as it is now.”
So they’re doing more. Aside from the inspiring song, they have a children’s book on the way, and perhaps, more children. As Leslie jokingly put it, “We’re always looking for ways to collaborate. That’s part of the reason we keep making these babies. Collaboration. It’s an art!”