My Life in the Sun­shine: Search­ing for My Father and Dis­cov­er­ing My Family 

Nabil Ayers

  • Review
By – June 3, 2022

Writ­ten in a clear, breezy style, this book is an auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Nabil Ayers. Born in 1972, Nabil had a lov­ing moth­er, and his uncle was his sur­ro­gate father. They were born Jew­ish but embraced the Baha’i faith as young adults, and Nabil was named for Bahai’s founder. Nabil’s child­hood was spent in the musi­cal­ly fer­tile envi­ron­ments of Green­wich Vil­lage and Amherst, Mass­a­chu­setts. As the author tells it, he came of age at the ide­al moment in musi­cal Amer­i­ca when heavy met­al, jazz, R&B fusion, and indie and punk rock came togeth­er with music videos, CDs, and the dawn­ing inter­net era. For a brief time, musi­cians could actu­al­ly make a liv­ing. A life­long drum­mer and gui­tarist, Nabil toured and made records with two bands, co-owned Son­ic Boom, a suc­cess­ful record store in Seat­tle, and then became an exec­u­tive in charge of 4AD, a sub­sidiary of the Beg­gars Group label.

But the wild card in Nabil’s life was his father, the renowned musi­cian Roy Ayers. Start­ing out as a vibra­phone play­er in the style of Lionel Hamp­ton, Roy Ayers made a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to funk and jazz fusion. He cut more than a dozen albums and toured inter­na­tion­al­ly. When Nabil’s twen­ty-year old moth­er Louise and her broth­er Alan met Roy Ayers at the Vil­lage Gate, Louise imme­di­ate­ly decid­ed that she want­ed to have his baby. Roy was will­ing to be a sperm donor with ben­e­fits, with the caveat being that he would have no respon­si­bil­i­ty and take no part in the child’s upbringing.

Louise made no demands on Roy, but she took Nabil to his shows, hop­ing that he would greet her and Nabil, but most of these encoun­ters were dis­ap­point­ing. The por­trait of Roy that emerges is of a tremen­dous­ly charis­mat­ic, self-assured tal­ent whose focus is on him­self. As Nabil became a suc­cess­ful adult, he grap­pled with his father’s indif­fer­ence. Lat­er, he con­front­ed a real­i­ty that was in the back­ground all his life: his bira­cial iden­ti­ty. His mother’s Jew­ish rel­a­tives were avail­able and accept­ing to him, but he took the genealog­i­cal route to fill in his father’s back­ground and build reward­ing rela­tion­ships with new­ly dis­cov­ered relatives.

Per­haps because he grew up with love and sta­bil­i­ty, or per­haps because he had the social and musi­cal skills to build a pro­duc­tive life, Nabil Ayers writes with­out pain or ran­cor about issues that cause tur­moil to so many peo­ple — his absent father and his uncer­tain sense of him­self racial­ly. He expe­ri­enced the usu­al microag­gres­sions, yet he fit­ted in remark­ably well in his teen, col­lege, and young adult years in Salt Lake City and Seat­tle, where black com­mu­ni­ty and cul­ture are con­spic­u­ous by their absence. Through­out the book, it’s clear to the read­er that Nabil’s social skills and gift with words prob­a­bly served him well in these white envi­ron­ments. In the end, he came full cir­cle by mar­ry­ing a Jew­ish woman.

Beth Dwoskin is a retired librar­i­an with exper­tise in Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture and Jew­ish folk music.

Discussion Questions