NOLA’s Breakout Star
We spoke with Sir Foster, the organist who won All-Star Weekend.
The 2014 All-Star Game MVP award went to Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, who led the East to a 163-155 win over the West in New Orleans. But the real breakout star of the evening was Sir Foster, the Atlanta Hawks’ in-house organist who was behind the keyboard at the Smoothie King Center for much of the weekend.
Foster performed organ-ized covers of hip-hop songs new and old, like “All of the Lights,” “Pop That,” “Ms. Jackson” and “Whistle While You Twurk,” while talk of the game’s unique soundtrack rapidly gained steam on social media and inside the arena. We’ve been aware of Foster for a minute—his musical interludes alone make Hawks home games required League Pass viewing—but we’re glad to see him finally getting some long overdue shine.
Foster, 26, grew up in Fort Valley, Ga., about an hour and a half south of Atlanta. His first year with the Hawks was back in 2009-10, and he’s been rocking happily Philips Arena 41 times per season ever since.
An hour after the final buzzer sounded Sunday night, we found Foster on the court, still soaking in the final scene of his 2014 All-Star Weekend experience.
SLAM: Was the All-Star Game the biggest event you’ve ever played?
Sir Foster: I would have to say this is the biggest. Last month, the Hawks had a game in London—it was a regular season game but it turned into more of an exhibition game because it was overseas and a neutral-feel type place. That was big, but it wasn’t like this. They didn’t have musical guests on stage. This is the biggest thing I’ve done. This is just ridiculous—ridiculous in a good way.
SLAM: Did you have a set playlist?
SF: No, my approach to every game is the same. I show up at the arena—if I’m in Atlanta, I might listen to the radio on my way to the arena to see what they’re playing, to get me in the mood or get the sense of where the city is that day. But most of the time, I just show up to the arena, and if there’s something on my mind, I just play it. It’s not a really complex process.
SLAM: How’d you wind up at this year’s All-Star Game?
SF: God blessed me. He really did. He blessed me. When we did the game in London, the NBA was producing that game, so that’s where I got a chance to work with them. And they said, Mr. Foster, we would love to have you for the All-Star Game. On the inside, I was like, Yeaahhh! But on the outside, I was like, Well, sure, we can talk, I would consider it [laughs]. But it’s been a great experience. New Orleans has been wonderful.
SLAM: What was it like when your phone started blowing up with Twitter notifications?
SF: At that point, you just have to realize, like, OK, I’m glad my phone’s blowing up. Obviously that means people are noticing what you’re doing, and they like it, and I appreciate it. But this is the All-Star Game, and I gotta stay focused. So at that point you don’t even worry about it. I told myself I wasn’t gonna check my phone until after the first half, and then I don’t think I checked it until after the third quarter, ‘cause I had requests. That’s when I started checking it. You just have to stay locked in, but I appreciate all the support. It’s been great.
SLAM: Do you usually work alongside a DJ like you did at the All-Star Game?
SF: That’s standard. I’ve always played with a DJ. I play during the gameplay, and the DJ handles the timeout music or if the dancers are doing something. But what was different about tonight was that in an All-Star Game, the pace of the game is much faster, and the rules of when you can play are much different. I probably on an average game night play eight to 10 songs, and then little grooves here and there on offense and defense—chances to get the crowd involved. [Sunday] I may have played 40 songs.
SLAM: And you’re playing every note of those songs, right?
SF: Every single note, yeah. Everything is live. I have my keyboard set up so I can play drums live. I do use pre-programmed drums from time to time, which I program myself, like if it’s a special song that I want to play. [Sunday] for example, “Still Fly”—we’re in New Orleans and I wanted to play a Big Tymers song, so I programmed the drums for “Still Fly” so I could play the organ on top of it. [Ed.'s Note: "Still Fly" was incredible.] I pre-program drums, but I never pre-program melodic elements because I want it to always sound live. Ninety-five percent of what you heard was live.
SLAM: Do you ever get requests from players?
SF: I’ve gotten some. Most of the time it’s, “Hey man, you were really jamming up there.” One of the Hawks coaches last year used to always ask me to play Snoop Dogg. Like, every game.
SLAM: Which coach?
SF: When Nick Van Exel was [an assistant for the Hawks], he used to always want to hear Snoop Dogg. Any Snoop Dogg. And it was funny, because I would play it and the next game he would be like, Hey, you got me last time!
SLAM: Can you tell us about a time you’ve performed a song that has a random story behind why you chose it?
SF: One year I played Guile’s music from Street Fighter, because I used to love Street Fighter—it was my favorite game as a kid, and I’d wake up at 7 a.m. on Saturdays to go play Street Fighter so when my friends came over, I could beat them all. I played the X-Men theme one year. I guess the coolest story would be, you know in Mario, when he goes underground? I used to play that and one of the Hawks fans would always run up and do [the run] as if he’s Mario. He’d stand up in his seat and do it to me. He really liked that song, so he’d request it and start acting like Mario. I love that guy. He comes to every game.
SLAM: What’s your musical background?
SF: My musical background is this: When I was 6 months old, my mom says I walked up to the piano, I looked at it, hit one note and I sang the note back to her. She said, “He’s not banging on it like all the other babies, so he must be special.” So her and my dad got me piano lessons and I started playing in church. Then I went to the clubs, and now I’m here. The way I started playing for the Hawks is unbelievable. I was at work one day, bored out of my mind, not doing anything, and I was on Craigslist, and the Hawks listed the job on Craigslist, and I just answered it. That’s it.
SLAM: Really? Did you audition for them?
SF: The Craigslist link took you to their website that had this long, drawn-out application. I’m at work with three hours to go, so I said, I ain’t got nothing else to do, so I filled it out.
SLAM: What was your job then?
SF: I think I was in an office at that point, like part-time office work. Anyway, the super-long application, I filled it out, and then they called me in. They just wanted to talk to me and they were like, If I told you to play a country song what would you do, if I told you to play a pop song what would you do. They were like, Cool. So they called me to play a pre-season game, and they just threw me out, like, OK, go! And I guess I swam more than I sank, so they were like, OK, we’ll roll with you.
SLAM: So what’s next? Are you hoping to flip this All-Star attention into more gigs?
SF: I would love to. I had a situation that happened to me two months ago, when the Lakers came to Atlanta, and I said I was gonna get a picture with Kobe Bryant. That was my mission. So after the game I saw Kobe Bryant, and when I walked up to him, I did something that I’ve never done: I straight-up froze up. I’ve met Kobe two or three times before, and I walked up to him and I was like, Hey. He was like, What’s up, man? And that was it. So, in addition to me not getting my picture with Kobe Bryant, what made it terrible is my friend went and got a picture. She was like, Yeah, you could’ve got one! I got one! Look! I did not take advantage of my moment when it was there. I said to myself, I will never again not take advantage of my moment when it’s there. So [the All-Star Game] was my moment, and I’m very thankful that I was able to take advantage of it and grab it, and hopefully I can just keep making the best of it.