Playing a musical instrument is somewhat challenging to most of us. Playing an instrument with a handicap is not only challenging but also impossible. Now, for so long, there has been a debate about the best and most famous blind piano players that have ever lived.
In fact, most musicians have long been debating on the topic of “Being Gifted vs. Trained”. For years, music has been considered as a tempestuous endeavor that has been used in various categories to inspire as well as educate people. But how does playing the piano work when you are blind?
Playing the piano is usually fun, but playing it with a distinct disadvantage of blindness is considered impossible and downright intimidating. However, there are many blind piano players throughout history.
But, did you know that there are phenomenal pianists who have risen to become famous and great musicians despite this mammoth obstacle? Well, in the hopes of providing some inspiration, this article will highlight 12 of the best blind piano players who rose to the top despite being blind.
Best Famous Blind Piano Players of All Time
If you happened to ask me who is the best black blind singer and piano player that ever lived, it’s no doubt the first name that will pop out of my mind is Ray Charles. Born in the Deep South in 1930, the Father of Soul is one of the most remarkable and brilliant blind black piano player who made a name out of his outstanding art in playing this beautiful instrument.
Ray Charles was not born blind. Instead, he began losing his sight at the age of 5, and by 7 years, he had totally lost his sight becoming permanently blind. Even still, he managed to become the best blind piano player.
Though orphaned at the age of 15, Ray Charles went on to become an iconic musician and pianist who inspired other blind black musicians, one of whom is Stevie Wonder. His best hit songs such as “Georgia On My Mind” and “Hit the Road Jack” are some of his most remarkable songs that have been sung and hummed by thousands of musicians across the globe.
Another black blind piano player we can’t dare to miss out is Stevie Wonder. Inspired by the famous Ray Charles, Stevie grew to become one of the most phenomenal and inspiring musician and pianist.
Born on 1950, Stevie lost his sight the same way as Roy and grew up playing musical instruments in his local church such as the piano, harmonica, and drums. He is one of the most memorable blind piano players of all time.
Raised by a protective mother, Stevie was discovered to possess a rare talent in music and was signed on Motown Records where he shot to become the best pop star artist of all times. His success led him to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom which was awarded to him by President Barrack Obama in 2014.
I came to notice that most blind pianists and musicians are generally drawn to two major types of genres; Jazz and Blues. However, one famous blind piano player who has become a star from a generally rare genre of country music is Ronnie Millsap.
Abandoned by his parents while an infant, Ronnie attended the Governor Moorehead School for the blind where his talent in music was discovered.
Through playing major instruments such as the harmonica, drums, and the piano (during church choir), Ronnie became a classical pianist and later ventured in his favorite genre which was Country Music.
Born in England in 1919, George Shearing went on to compose over 300 original songs making him one of the best blind piano players in the world. In addition to that, he went ahead to be knighted by the Queen of England in 2007.Most people play the piano as a way of spending their free time in style. For George Shearing, playing the piano has surpassed everything else making him one of the most notable and remarkable blind piano players of recent times.
Shearing also went on to play this incredible instrument in the White House for 3 different presidents. Born with an unquenchable passion for playing the piano, George Shearing is one of the most celebrated blind pianists in the Jazz genre.
Another talented blind pianist who’ve taken the world of music by storm is Nobuyuki Tsujii. Born in Tokyo in 1988, Tsujii was already blind by the time of his birth due to a condition known as Microphthalmia. His great sense in music was discovered as early as 2 years and by 4, he was able to play impressive melodies of Jingo Bells and Do Re Mi over the piano.
Born with a magnificent talent of playing the piano, Tsujii was able to take his musical talent to greater heights and by the time he was 25, he had accomplished things which most musicians, pianists, and composers would have called a future dream.
Today, this Japanese pianist, composer and musician has released a number of great albums and have gone ahead to win multiple crucial awards and accolades such as the Taylor Smith Award, 15th International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition and the Film Music Artist Japan Film Critics Award among others.
Andrea Bocelli is another great singer and pianist who’ve earned a place among the most remarkable singers in the world. Just like most other blind pianists, Andrea was not born blind but rather got blind at the age of 12 after suffering from congenital glaucoma.
Apart from playing the piano, Andrea played other woodwind instruments and also earned a Law degree from the University of Pisa. After numerous performances in piano bars, Andrea got his breakthrough in 1993 where a scout heard him sing.
His spectacular career kicked off after teaming up with notable and best voices in the industry such as the likes of Sarah Brightman and Luciano Pavarotti. Andrea Bocelli is an outstanding musician and pianist who has an unquenchable thirst in the music industry.
If you’re an avid Jazz connoisseur, one famous icon you can’t miss to know is Art Tatum. A blind black piano player who suffered a rare condition right at infancy, Tatum has impressively shore-cased his talent to the world making him one of the most successful blind piano players in the globe.
Although less is known about this black piano player, his impressive art of playing the piano via play by ear method has earned him a place in the hall of famous player in the world.
Despite his fruitful career being cut short by the effects of kidney failure in 1956, Tatum’s music went on to win the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989.
Another blind pianist we can’t miss to mention is Louis Hardin. Famously known as Moondog, this pianist is vastly known for his extraordinary work and contribution in the world of music. The reason why I call him extraordinary was due to his legendary highly incredible performance yet he didn’t have a vast commercial success.
Just like most famous pianists we’ve already reviewed in this article, Moondog was not born blind. However, he lost his sight at the age of 16 after a tragic accident where a stick of dynamite detonated right in front of his eyes (causing permanent eye damage).
Moondog mastered the art of music using play by ear method. He also learned the art of musical theory by using Braille for the blind. Though not a super rich musician, Moondog chose to live in the streets. He lived a unique lifestyle that made him a well-known Jazz musician in the hearts of most general people.
Jeff Healey is another adorable blind pianist we can’t fail to mention. Born and raised in Canada, this gifted musician was quite unique in his own ways as he often played the guitar while resting on his lap. This unique style of playing the guitar earned him praise and made him one of the most remarkable guitarists and musicians of his time.
Jeff started playing the guitar at the age of 3. He, however, lost his sight earlier on at the age of just one due to eye cancer. Nonetheless, his blindness was never his weak-point but rather his stepping stone as he rose to become one of the most celebrated artists in the Classic Jazz genre and a great blind piano player.
A composer, a singer and a guitarist, Jeff Healey had an unmatched instrumental prowess which was possessed by just a few. Unfortunately, his life and career were cut short by lung cancer that claimed his life in 2008.
Nicknamed Deedles at her childhood years, Diane Schuur is an established vocalist in contemporary Jazz with a voice that’s as electric as she is brilliant. Born in 1953, Diane lost her sight at a tender age due to a rare disorder Retinopathy of Prematurity.
Born and raised in a music environment (his Dad was an armature pianist and a local policeman), Diane started learning how to play the piano through the play by ear method.
A composed pianist and musician who had mastered the subtle Jazz interpretation and the power of rhythm, Diane has won lots of accolades and has gone ahead to feature as one of the most famous female blind pianists and musicians of all times.
Blind Willie Johnson
A Gospel/Blues singer born and raised in Marlin Texas, Willie Johnson is one of the most phenomenal musicians and blind piano player of the 19th century. Though less is known about him, Willie was not born blind but instead, he turned blind at the age of 5 due to a condition; Glaucoma and cataracts.
After spending his initial career singing on the streets, Willie married in 1927 and became a Baptist Preacher before moving to Dallas. After recording a gospel album with Colombia Records, Willie went on to shore case his talent in the Classics Gospel genre where he recorded until 1930 but went on to perform until 1940.
Although Willie passed on in 1945 due to Pneumonia, his extraordinary work of art has remained to be celebrated, valued and appreciated all over the globe. In 2018, one of his best hit songs “Its Nobody’s Fault but Mine” was featured as a soundtrack in the videogame Fallout 76.
Joaquin is another blind pianist who became blind during early childhood due to complications of Diphtheria. During his career, Joaquin confessed that his blindness was what drew him to become an enthusiast pianist and musician.
Joaquin began his music career while 8 years old where he would play the violin. By the age of 20, this famous piano player had become an established violinist. Born in Italy, Joaquin passed on in 1999 and is a long celebrated musician, pianist, and violist in the classical genre.
The idea behind playing the piano while blind may seem absurd, but with a list of famous pianists, composers, and musicians such as this, it’s fair to mention that playing this beautiful instrument doesn’t need you to use your eyes but rather to adopt a technique that will allow you to play by ear through memorizing the notes.
Next time, I will present a story of my friend who’s blind and is aspiring to become a great pianist soon. Bye for now and take care.
Useful Tips on Becoming a Blind Piano Player
Know someone who is blind and aspiring to become a professional pianist? Here are some tips that will prove helpful to become a famous blind piano player.
- Although Braille is a useful companion for all blind people, it’s actually an inefficient way when it comes to notating music.
- Start on a piano keyboard as they are cheaper and easier to learn on.
- One useful technique of playing the piano is by memorizing the notes, feeling and playing with your heart.
- If you’re blind, the ears automatically become your eyes. So, you have to listen in order for you to learn.
- To become a professional pianist, you have to develop great listening skills. Your ears should work as your eyes as you learn and understand the various concepts of playing the piano.
- Braille music resources are available to those who prefer to use them in learning how to play the piano.
Hopefully you enjoyed this guide on the most famous blind piano players of all time.