Blind musicians fall into the category of that special kind of musicians, singers or instrumentalists, sometimes even working as singer-accompanists who are blind, yet having conquered the hearts of millions with their exceptional talent.
Louis Braille, the creator of braille alphabet, has also contributed in the field of music by forming the braille music, a system of classical notation, which has helped the blind to overcome their deformity and use it as their strengths. It is interesting to note that this system is quite handy and lucid, and the blind can use it to read and write their music. Checkout the top 10 most famous Blind Musicians of all time.
10. Art Tatum
Losing his eyesight to one eye by cataract, Tatum remains one of the finest blind pianists ever. He was born in 1909, in Toledo. In this list of blind musicians, he is the only one who was not completely blind. His fingers over the piano keys always created the magic and perhaps he was a musical sensation. He was famous was producing a unique sound, building upon both classical and stride influences. He was an inspiration to many, more likable to jazz giants like Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson.
9. Jose Feliciano
The skills needed and the spirits required to overcome the disability of being blind, might remain unnoticed to some but if this Puerto Rican Guitarist comes into consideration, the world will accept Jose Feliciano as a virtuoso in the field of music. In a stretched musical career of 50 years, Jose has mastered music in diversified forms, be it pop, jazz, blues or classical. He has recorded his works in two distinct languages, English & Spanish. The renowned track “Feliz Navidad” by Feliciano has earned much praise.
8. Blind Willie McTell
A friend of Willie Johnson, Willie McTell was most probably born in the year 1898 in Georgia. Unlike his friend Johnson who was known for his baritone voice, Willie McTell owned a sweet and melodious voice. McTell is supposed to have conquered the music styles which included blues, ragtime, religious music etc. His first recording was made for Victor Records in 1927. The forgotten one, McTell had a strong command over his blues and gospels. His noteworthy works can be summarized as:“ Mama T’Ain’t Long Fo’ Day”, Statesboro Blues and Southern Can Is Mine.
Not a blind by birth, this American musician, was born in 1916. His real name was Louis Thomas Hardin. He was popularly known as Moondog. His musical career began by playing drums on a cardboard box. Unfortunately, he met with an accident and lost his eyesight as a result. He did not lose faith in music and trained himself to learn music with the help of ears. Inspired by street sounds, foghorns, and subway noises, he realized himself to be a street musician. Most of his works are published by Managarm Musikverlag in Germany. His song, “All is Loneliness” was covered by Janis Joplin and later on by Anthony and Johnsons. The likes of Philip Glass and Steve Reich were highly moved by Moondog’s work and ended up being his fan.
6. Ronnie Milsap
Born in Robbinsville, North Carolina, this guy became blind due to a congenital disorder. This inability of his could not shake his hunger for music, and with his innumerable efforts, he had become a famous musician, ultimately to be mentioned in this list. His childhood was revolved around gospels, country music, and blues. He has mastered and learned to play various kinds of instruments. His first single was released in 1963 by the name: “Total Disaster”. With the hits of “It Was Almost Like A Song” and “Smoky Mountain Rain,” he was accepted as a well-known country singer.
5. Willie Johnson
Also known as Blind Willie, Blind Texas Marlin or The Blind Pilgrim, Willie Johnson was an American gospel blues singer, a preacher and also a guitarist. Born in the year 1897 in Pendleton, Texas, his life history mainly remains unearthed. He can be described as a musician exhibiting powerful voice, with slide guitar skills and a uniqueness of his own which have inspired the later half of the, then musicians. He being blind is mostly based on the story put forward by many biographers, where his stepmother impaired his eyes sight. He had received his very first musical instrument- a cigar box guitar at the age of 5 years, by his father.
It is noted that Willie was a street singer or performer as is confirmed by historian Samuel Charters, who once interviewed Adam Booker. Adam Booker in his interview had recalled of his visit to Hearne, his father’s place where he saw Willie performing on the streets. Willie’s active musical years range from 1920s-1945. His very first recording was named “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole”. His notable recordings can be listed as follows: ‘Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed’, ‘It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine’,’ Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground’. His brief career of recording comprises of around 30 tracks for Columbia Records.
4. Ray Charles
Many say that it was very difficult to choose the number one spot, especially between Ray & Wonder. Characterized by his charisma in musical chops, singing ability, and strong musical extravaganza, Charles undoubtedly jumps in the ranking of blind musicians. He was born in 1930 in Georgia. His musical hits can be seen in the works like Mess Around, I Got A Woman and Drown in My Own Tears.
3. Nobuyuki Tsujii
He is a Japanese pianist and composer. Born in the year 1988, the thing which makes him special and an extraordinary musician is, he being virtuoso in the musical field, even though a blind. At a milk-sucking and crawling age say 2-3 years, when others play with building blocks and toys, this boy, ‘Nobu’ started playing songs namely ‘Do Re Mi’ on a toy piano, after hearing from his mother. It brings every hearer to astonishment that at the very age of 7, he was adjudged first in an all Japan Music of Blind Students. His first piano recital came in the small hall of Tokyo (Suntory Hall) at the age of 12. “Street Corner of Vienna” was his very first song, composed at a tender age of 12.Tsujii graduated from Ueno Gakuen University, in the year 2011. He had participated in Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in the year 2009 and bagged the gold medal opposite to Hoachen Zhang. A gifted musician, young Nobuyuki Tsujii has achieved a lot one can barely imagine, even before turning 25.
2. Stevie Wonder
A musician who needs no description, he is none other than Steve Wonder. He is a wonder in the real sense of music. From helping Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday to become a public holiday, to having released the finest of albums and songs, this man was a child prodigy. Born Stevland Hardaway Morris in 1950, his inclination to music was noticeable at very young age. His career made the biggest of leaps after his hit song: Fingertips. But the best had yet to come. After releasing his trilogy of albums: Music of My Mind, Talking Book and Inner visions he became the mighty musician. He perfected the art of using a synthesizer, which added glitters to his talent.
1. George Shearing
He can be thought of as a needle in the haystack when it comes to internationally experienced and reputed Jazz musicians (pianists). Talented he was from a very young age, proofs of which can be found from his university accolades. He had received a scholarship for his immense abilities in the field of music. Born in Battersea, London, in the year 1919, he had to face many odds in his life being technically blind. There was a time when he even worked in a local pub, The Mason’s Arms in Lambeth. His career took a turn when he started recording for the first time in 1937, along with Leonard Feather, after which he made his BBC radio broadcast as well.
He moved to U.S. in 1947 and performed in various groups and bands. His very first performance was observed at the Hickory House. His first quintet was formed in 1949, its members being Margie Hyams, Chuck Wayne, and Denzil Best. His major achievements can be summed up as playing for three Presidents at the White House, being admired by Jack Kerouac, the Beat writer and a record holding figure of writing over 300 compositions (Lullaby of Birdland ). This blind pianist, whose career was at stake, due to certain shortcomings, having born to a poor family, a blind by birth, reached the heights of success and was awarded the title of “Knighthood” in 2007 from England’s Queen during that time.
These musicians have been able to create their own mark in this world through their divine music and great works although they did not get to see the light of this beautiful world. Being blind, they were able to fill the life of all others with the light of their music.