Noted Jazz musicians count their blessings as they weather life’s storms

GARY – “We are blessed.” That’s the message Renee Miles-Foster and her husband Billy Foster want to share.
“What we are doing is sharing the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. As you get older, as an adult, you start understanding you are blessed to have various things happen,” said Renee.
The Gary couple has been blessed with the gift of music. For much of their lives, Billy and Renee have touched the ears and hearts locally, nationally, and abroad. Billy is a renowned and respected jazz pianist, composer, educator, producer, and host of the "Billy Foster Jazz Zone." He has written and produced recordings with both the Billy Foster and Audio and the Billy Foster Trio, which featured Renee’s vocals.
Renee’s early passion for singing jazz branched into singing gospel and spiritual, which she refers to as “a blessing and life-changing.”
Billy and Renee have performed with many notable jazz musicians over the years. The couple was recently recognized with the 2024 Merit of Distinction Award from the Katie Hall Educational Foundation, Inc. The Gary not-for-profit foundation is in honor of U.S. Rep. Katie Hall, author and sponsor of the bill that created Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday in 1983.
“I felt excited and grateful. I call it one of my God moments,” said Billy.
The Gary couple shared that in their 25 years of marriage their vows, “…in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…” have taken a deeper meaning. “When you’re married to a person, it’s making a covenant with God, " said Renee. “Billy’s been a friend to me. It’s best to have a friend, that way you can weather the storms.”
Over the years, the couple have weathered, and continue to weather storms in their lives.  
One of those storms has been cancer. Billy thought he was cancer-free from a bout of kidney cancer in 1996. Then, in 2007, they discovered the cancer metastasized in his lung, liver, and brain. He is currently undergoing clinical trials at the University of Chicago which have stabilized the disease.
Renee has also dealt with the dreaded disease. “It’s been an experience living with cancer.  After two years of praying and doing what I needed to do, they told me I didn’t have any more cancer.”
“I called Billy and just cried,” recalled Renee after she received her diagnosis.
Now the couple are advocates for cancer patients. They have shared their stories in documentaries and during jazz concerts that can be found online. “It’s been really wonderful to be able to share our gifts and to be able to help people in distress, especially those who are just starting their journey with cancer so that they can have a better understanding that cancer is not a death sentence,” said Renee.
The couple’s gift of music has brought comfort to others. “The power of music heals and uplifts your spirit,” said Billy.
The couple relied on more than their music to get them through the hard times. “Through problems or troubles, we’ve learned how to lean on God and know that He is there. It’s a beautiful thing to know in times of trouble and desperation,” said Billy.
Billy explained the meaning of a vespers he penned.
“The reason I wrote the Jazz Vespers is to give thanks for me still being around. Kidney cancer stats are really bad for survival, most die within five years and I’ve been around much longer than that. I know God is looking out for me,” said Billy. “I’m blessed to have the ability to be a musician. To be put on the planet to bring joy and happiness to people brings me joys.”
Raised Catholic, Renee shared how she spent much of her time being a “straddler.”
“I prayed and then I doubted. I pray, then I doubt. One day I said if you’re really communing with God and really sincere about it, then you make up your mind on which way you’re going to go. You’re going to believe that God is going to heal, God is going to help you, or going to doubt all the way and be in desperation. I choose to give my life to God,” said Renee.
It was then she decided to return to her Catholic roots.
Renee credits the Catholic education her parents gave her beginning with Holy Trinity and later through Holy Angels. “I can thank my mother and father for putting us in Catholic school. They were good memories,” she said. “That’s what brought me back to the church, remembering those people who brought me this far, including the priests.”
Renee shared how her mom converted to Catholicism as a young mother.
Despite having been away from the Church for a time, she always felt that connection. “It’s been in me. It’s something that never leaves you.  When you have a connection that’s heartfelt and full of memories and love of people who have been mentors for me, it makes your heart sing to remember all the people who impacted my life,” said Renee.
She added how growing up in Gary impacted her life. “Culturally on our block, we had Polish, Slovaks, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, black folk, it was a mixture of people. The religious studies and upbringing were some of the things that I credit to my parents because they thought about what their children needed – to interact with people in the world. They wanted us to know other faces and other cultures,” recalled Renee.
Now the couple is determined to delve deeper into their faith.
“It’s really an emotional time for me. I realized as I get older, it is important that we make a stand in our lives and know who has brought us this far and value and appreciate it,” said Renee. “With all we’ve gone through, it would be selfish of me and my husband to not want to know God and seek Him out for the good gifts and things He’s done for us.”


Caption: Billy Foster plays the keyboard as his wife, Renee’ Miles-Foster, sings during a performance. (Photo provided)