Music has always been a universal language. You can write music, play music, and listen to music. The connection strengthens the closer you get to music, and as you approach music mastery, nothing can stop you from making it your life. For years musicians have been creating music that inspires and the heartfelt music that is motivated by sincere passion has been received passionately by the audience. Nothing screams passion as much as a musician that has to overcome tough obstacles to learn the art, master the art, and then create the art—dedicating their life to the art of music. Blind musicians have always had a special place in the music industry, as their obstacle far exceeds getting a record deal, having to work with hard-to-deal-with producers, or any obstacles that most musicians are used to facing. Blind musicians always experience much bigger disadvantages in the learning process, as they need to feel everything, and although they may look fluent in their playing, you must think back to their starting days, when they didn’t know where each piano button was or what each button sounds like. The legendary piano players we will discuss are ones that had to feel the music; the music that later on made you and I feel as well. Read on to learn about five of the most famous blind piano players.
Ray Charles, also known as The Genius or Brother Ray, is an American singer and songwriter. Ray started losing his sight at the age of five, by seven years old he was completely blind. Brother Ray started learning the classical piano at school, building a strong foundation he started learning the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. The Genius was crucial to developing the music genre that we know as soul music, which is a combination of blues, gospel, and rhythm styles. Ray Charles paved the way for other brilliant blind piano players, and his extreme talent was praised by other legends. Frank Sinatra used to speak highly of him, calling him the only true genius in the music business. Ray Charles passed away in 2004 at the age of 73, but his music and legacy lives on forever and continues to inspire many today. Charles was so great that Hollywood had to produce a movie about him. Jamie Foxx starred as Ray Charles and put on such as performance that Oscars had no choice but to give him the award for best male actor. Foxx deserved it and Charles deserved a movie about him since he is such a legendary musician.
Stevie Wonder was born in 1950 and although he wasn’t born blind, he lost his vision just like Ray Charles. Little Stevie was signed to Motown’s Tamla record label at the young age of 11, and the good relationship between them continued until 2010. Stevie Wonder is considered one of the most successful musicians to ever live; he won 25 Grammys, and sold over 100-million records around the globe, not to mention the numerous top-ten hits throughout the years. After 55 years of wondrous music, Stevie Wonder continues to share his art with the world, proving that no matter what life throws at you, if you do something with love, you can always exceed at it. Wonder truly is an amazing artist and an incredible human being. To struggle with something that most of us take for granted like eyesight and persevered through all of it and become one of the biggest stars in the world is one of the reasons that Wonder is so amazing.
George Shearing is one of the most popular piano players in the Jazz genre. Born in England in 1919, Shearing started learning how to play the piano at the age of three at the Linden Lodge School for the Blind. After four years at the school, he was offered numerous scholarships. Not only did George Shearing overcome the difficulty of playing Jazz music without using his sight, he wrote over 300 music pieces, which influenced tons of musicians and paved the road for many that joined the scene after him. Shearing passed away at the age of 91, his music still plays around the world, beautiful to the ears while fueling the soul, inspiring millions. Shearing is another amazing artist who did not let his blindness stop him from pursuing his dreams and then going onto becoming one of the biggest acts in jazz. He is a remarkable person and deserves all the credit that he gets.
Not all legends are old, Nobuyuki Trujii was born blind due to Microphthalmia in 1988. Nobuyuki started playing Do Re Mi on a toy piano at the age of two and was studying music by the time he was four. At the age of ten, this young pianist played with the Century Orchestra and his success continued as he played his first piano recital in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall when he was just 12 years old. Trujii now has a documentary that depicts his young, talented life, following him as he plays the main halls and shares the art with his audience.
Ronnie Milsap has one of the saddest, most influential stories in the music business. Ronnie was born mostly blind due to a congenital disorder. His mother abandoned him, leaving him to his grandparents, where he spent late nights listening to the radio and growing his passion for music. When Milsap was only five years old, he was sent to the Governor Morehead School for the blind. Unfortunately, Milsap lost what remained of his sight from extreme physical abuse at the hands of one of his teachers. At the age of seven, his teachers discovered his musical talents and it didn’t take them long to push him into a musical direction. After listening to Elvis Presley, he became fascinated by Rock and Roll music. Ronnie Milsap became the first successful blind country music singer and pianist. Ronnie’s six Grammys and 40 number one hits showed the world that you can overcome any obstacle.
The staggering talent of these pianists and the incredible perseverance needed to overcome their handicap to produce such beautiful music speaks volumes. These are some amazing musicians, full of inspiration. Looking to take that inspiration further? Check out our list of Best Digital Pianos and remember that if there’s a will to play music, there’s a way.