It is often that aspiring musicians give up as a result of problematic circumstances. Anything from money problems to health concerns may lead us to give up the musical path, despite our passion for the instruments.
However, the past century showed that it’s possible to overcome all the odds and rise out of even the direst of circumstances, as musicians like Ronnie Milsap and George Shearing have managed to prove. Other famous names, like that of Ray Charles, one of the greatest blind pianists of all time, stand as an inspiration to future musicians, proving that even blindness is powerless to stop a resolute musician.
Ray Charles was one of the most acclaimed and well-known personalities to have transformed the genre of American soul music during the 1950s and ‘60s. Born in September 1930, he had one of the longest careers of any blind piano player, and his additional talent of being an outstanding musician and songwriter has earned him the nickname “The Genius” during the earlier years of his life.
Charles was blind from age 7, but his inability to see did not deter his resolve during his studies at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, where he made his first steps in studying music. Despite the fact that his popularity began to decline slightly in the mid-1980s, Charles’ career spanned over nearly 6 decades – from 1945 to his death in 2004.
He became known for bridging genres like blues, gospel, and rhythm & blues in his music, and he was also an influential contributor in the integration of country and pop music during the 1960s. Rolling Stone magazine even went so far as to place Charles in 10th place on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”
Unlike most pianists who became famous as critically acclaimed blind piano players, Stevie Wonder was blind shortly after his birth. Born in 1950, he rose to fame at an early age, auditioning for Motown shortly after he wrote his first successful composition in 1961, at just 11 years of age.
Wonder became famous with hits like I Was Made to Love Her, My Cherie Amour, Boogie on Reggae Woman, and Superstition. Several of his songs reached the top of the R&B charts, and he retained his world-famous status well into the 1980s when he performed two of his most legendary hits for the first time: I Just Called to Say I Love You, and the duet, Ebony and Ivory alongside Paul McCartney.
Despite having lost his vision due to developing retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) as an infant, Stevie Wonder never allowed this to keep him from his dream. Aside from recording 30 US top 10 hits, winning 25 Grammy awards, and selling more than 100 million records worldwide, he was also known for redefining pop music entirely through his 1970s music albums, which were considered remarkably influential at the time.
Although Nobuyuki Tsujii was born blind as a result of Microphthalmia, his musical talent surpassed that of most children even at the early age of 7, when the young Japanese pianist won first prize at the All Japan Music of Blind Students in Tokyo.
His career literally exploded shortly after that period. At age 10 he debuted with the Century Orchestra in Osaka, and at the early age of 12, he gave his first piano recital in Suntory Hall, in Tokyo. The child prodigy later grew up to become one of Japan’s most famous piano players, tying for the gold medal at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
In addition to being a masterful pianist, the musician is also an acclaimed composer, having written his first composition, Street Corner of Vienna, at the young age of 12. He managed to compose several award-winning movie and documentary soundtracks, and his career also led him to perform an outstanding debut recital at Carnegie Hall, in 2011.
American country singer, Ronnie Milsap became famous in the 1970s, when he practically led the country “crossover” movement, and soon became one of the most famous crossover singers and piano players of all time. Despite being blind, he became known for outstanding performances such as Smoky Mountain Rain and It Was Almost Like a Song.
Ronnie Milsap started out in life with far less than most of us have. He was born in 1943, almost completely blind, and soon abandoned by his mother. He was raised by his grandparents and had to settle for a life of poverty during his trying early beginnings as a young musician.
Despite these hardships, Milsap’s talent and passion for music shone through, helping him become an extremely promising musician, and leading him to master the piano well before his 20th birthday. His first hit, Never Had It So Good, came in 1965, and his talent led him to work on several acclaimed projects, including the recording of some of Elvis Presley’s famous hits, such as Don’t Cry Daddy and Kentucky Rain.
The story of George Shearing is yet another tale of triumph against all the odds. The man who was later to become a famous British jazz musician and the composer of more than 300 titles, George Shearing was born in 1919 in London. Despite being blind and the youngest of nine children in a working-class home, Shearing’s talent shone early in life, and his parents helping start on his musical path at the young age of 3, when he began with his first piano lessons.
Shearing started his career working at a local pub, then joining an all-blind band. His work was influenced mainly by the records of Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson, and he rose to fame with his first BBC radio broadcast in 1937.
The acclaimed pianist became truly well-known in the United States, where his complex style, mixing bop, swing, and modern classical music led him to greater popularity alongside the Oscar Pettiford Trio and Buddy DeFranco. Shearing also showed great interest in classical music during the 1950s and ‘60s, when he became known for developing a new musical technique known as “Shearing’s Voicing.”