NEW ORLEANS - Music has brought band leader Bennie Pete all over the world. He started the Grammy-nominated Hot 8 Brass Band 20 years ago. He says music is his life.
“I don't really choose to do nothing else, I just want to play music,” said Pete.
But for the first time, serious health issues are forcing the 38-year-old to put down his tuba and take a step back.
“I had just went on a month tour, and I came back Father's Day night from being gone for a month overseas, and the next day I had a seizure,” said Pete.
“[Doctors] almost pinned me up and said, ‘You’re not playing anymore.’”
After his seizure, Pete’s doctors performed a series of tests. They found he has a condition called sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that has affected Pete's skin, eyes, lungs, and even his brain.
He says for now, his illness has him too fatigued to pick up his tuba. It has sat untouched since his diagnosis.
“I'm seeing over five to six doctors, I'm taking all type of medicine, it's a lot.”
But for Pete, the most alarming news came even more recently.
“When I got the call about my heart that was kind of scary to me, and I did cry, I cried,” he said.
Doctors told Pete his heart is operating at less than 50 percent. His weak, swollen heart is coupled with a fast heart rate. Doctors tell him, he may need a pacemaker.
Now, one of the very things Pete loves about performing is forcing him to stop.
“The music gets me to a level where I'm getting hyped, blood pumping,” said Pete. “And that's more pressure on my heart.”
It's a heart that has thrived on creating music, but Pete believes the late-night lifestyle that went with it undermined his health. Now, he has a message for others.
“Just take care of yourself and read up on better ways to a better quality of life, and try to practice them,” said Pete.
Pete admits to eating excessive amounts of unhealthy food, starting at an early age. He says it is almost a cultural tradition, and remembers family members being proud when he could finish a burger or piece of fried chicken as a young child.
“I'm always wanting more,” said Pete. “I hate to leave anything on the plate, whatever the plate is, how big it is, I feel I'm obligated to eat it all.”
Now, he’s focusing on eating healthy and losing weight.
His main priority is being around to see his one year old son grow up.
“I just keep my spirits high, and pray,” said Pete. “I thank God for every day.”
Pete still wants to be involved with the Hot 8 Brass Band, even if it means just playing a song or two every now and then.
And even though the band canceled a five week European tour, the Hot 8 is still playing locally, albeit without its leader, and is still booking future shows.