Being a successful musician takes talent and resilience; being a musician with a significant physical disability is even harder. These 21 best blind musicians have become some of the best artists in history despite their challenges!
1. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder is undoubtedly one of the first people that comes to mind under the category of blind musicians. Considered a child prodigy, Wonder was given his stage name when he signed his first record label at the age of 11. He was not only the youngest artist in history to record a No. 1 hit, but has also earned countless awards and is considered a pioneer in the development of the R&B genre. Wonder was born prematurely and lost his vision due to detached retinas. In addition to being an accomplished singer, Wonder is a talented pianist and plays the harmonica and drums. He has won 25 Grammy Awards.
2. Raul Midón
Raul Midón was born prematurely and became blind after being kept in an incubator without proper eye protection. He developed an interest in the drums at the age of four before moving on to the guitar. He studied music, specifically jazz, at the University of Miami and began his career in session recordings with Latin artists such as Shakira and Julio Iglesias. Midón’s solo career has made him one of the best contemporary jazz guitarists; he also helped develop software that helps blind musicians produce music from their home studios.
3. Jose Feliciano
Jose Feliciano is a Puerto Rican singer and musician who has made waves in both English and Spanish music. Born blind due to congenital glaucoma, Feliciano taught himself to play the accordion at age seven. He later learned to play the guitar and began playing at clubs to support his family as a teenager. He became widely known throughout the 1960s due to his unique fusion of musical genres; he is best known for his Christmas song Feliz Navidad.
4. Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson was an early blues and gospel singer and guitarist. Blind from birth, Jefferson was nevertheless an accomplished guitarist. He was known for his unique playing technique and unusual voice, both of which would go on to influence the development of blues music and, later, rock and roll. His style made him commercially successful in the 1920s, which was remarkable for the time; nevertheless, only a few recordings have survived up til the present day.
5. Doc Watson
Doc Watson was a bluegrass guitarist and singer. Born in 1923, he lost his vision at the age of two after developing an eye infection. He learned to play the guitar and began his career playing fiddle tunes on the guitar at local square dances. His popularity grew with the rise of the modern folk movement of the 1960s, which he influenced greatly with his distinctive guitar-playing technique; he was also a talented baritone singer and banjo player.
6. Ray Charles
One of the most famous and beloved musicians of all time, Ray Charles was instrumental in shaping the genres of soul, jazz, rhythm and blues, and contemporary Gospel music. Both a pianist and a singer, Charles is considered not just one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, but one of the greatest musicians of any genre. He was born able to see but lost his sight by the time he was seven years old (probably due to glaucoma). Charles is best remembered for songs such as Georgia on my Mind, Hit The Road Jack, and I Got a Woman.
7. Art Tatum
Art Tatum was one of the most talented and influential jazz pianists of the 20th century. His contemporaries considered him to have unbelievable technical skill, made even more extraordinary by the fact that he could barely see. Tatum received extensive operations for cataracts in childhood and regained some of his vision; however, after an attack in young adulthood, he became completely blind in one eye and had severely obscured vision in the other. Nevertheless, his work as a jazz pianist became legendary throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s; he is considered one of the best jazz pianists of all time.
8. Terri Gibbs
Terri Gibbs was born severely premature and subsequently became a victim of incubator blindness, as newborns’ eyes were not routinely protected in incubators at the time. She began learning to play the piano at the age of only three and soon was playing and singing in her church choir. Gibbs’ career has crossed the Christian and country music genres; she has won many awards for her music, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.
9. Diane Schuur
Diane Schuur is a Grammy Award-winning jazz singer and pianist. She was born two months premature, which caused her to lose her vision. Her parents were amateur musicians and jazz enthusiasts, and Schuur developed an interest in playing the piano at a young age. She has absolute pitch memory, which means that she can hear and replicate the exact note of any pitch, musical or not. Schuur became widely known after performing for Nancy Reagan in the early 1980s.
10. Nobuyuki Tsujii
Nobuyuki Tsujii is a Japanese classical pianist. He was born blind due to microphthalmia, a condition that causes the eyes to be underdeveloped. Nevertheless, he showed a talent for music from a young age, even playing Do Re Mi on a toy piano at age two after hearing his mother sing the song. Tsujii is a composer and has released several solo albums; he has also toured as part of orchestral ensembles, gaining recognition not just for his skill, but also for his talent at learning techniques solely by ear.
11. Andrea Bocelli
Andrea Bocelli is one of the most famous classical music singers in the world, both visually impaired and seeing. Born in Italy, Bocelli had poor eyesight throughout his childhood due to congenital glaucoma; he lost his remaining eyesight after an accident when he was 12. He was interested in music early on, particularly opera; despite being a Guinness Book of World Records-breaking and Grammy Award-nominated tenor, Bocelli never had any formal music training. He became widely known after performing in bars before recording a demo with the famous Pavarotti. He is best known for his duet The Prayer with Céline Dion, who once said that if God could sing, He would sound like Andrea Bocelli.
12. Rod Clemmons
Rod Clemmons was born blind but began studying classical piano when he was only three years old. He has become one of the most influential gospel musicians of the modern era as a pianist, singer, and songwriter. He continues to produce music today and is known as one of modern music’s most remarkable blind artists.
13. Marcus Roberts
Marcus Roberts is a singer and jazz musician whose mother was also a blind singer. Roberts lost his sight at the age of five after developing glaucoma and cataracts. Nevertheless, he was extremely interested in piano, often playing at his family church. Roberts’ musical style draws heavy influences from the early jazz pianists of the 20th century, with elements of early blues and ragtime. He has worked extensively as a solo artist and a member of world-class symphony ensembles.
14. Ginny Owens
Ginny Owens is a singer and songwriter who has largely worked in the contemporary Christian music genre; however, her work has been popular enough to place on the Billboard Top 100 and feature on television shows such as Roswell and Felicity. After receiving her degree in music education, Owens struggled to find work, as few people wanted to hire her as a music teacher. Instead, she began producing her own CDs, which earned her the Lilith Fair ‘99 Talent Search, leading her to perform at the next year’s Sundance Film Festival.
15. Clarence Carter
Clarence Carter was born blind in 1936, attending a school for the blind before getting his music degree at Alabama State University. His focus was on singing and guitar, mostly in the soul and R&B genres. However, he made a name for himself by singing songs that were shockingly raunchy for the time (and even by today’s standards). In fact, many of Carter’s songs were considered too risque for radio play; however, they gained popularity in the developing hip hop industry and bars and clubs.
16. George Shearing
George Shearing was a British jazz musician; he was born blind in 1919 and began to learn piano at age three. Soon afterward, he started training formally at a school for the blind and joined an ensemble of blind musicians in the late 1930s. After World War II, Shearing moved to the United States, where he became extremely popular for his unique playing style, combining elements of jazz, blues, swing, and other genres. He was also highly influenced by classical music, which led to him developing a distinctive piano-playing style known as the Shearing Sound.
The artist known as Moondog was actually Louis Thomas Hardin, an American musician who was blinded by a dynamite cap at the age of 16. He was known for his eclectic personal and musical style, often dressing as a Viking as he walked around New York City. His music drew on influences from Latin and Native American music; his later pieces were characterized by distinctive ambient sounds and unique time signatures. In addition to his compositions, Moondog invented many musical instruments, most notably a percussion instrument called a trimba.
18. Blind Willie Johnson
Not much is known about Blind Willie Johnson’s early life, but his influence on 20th-century music is undeniable. Historians are not even sure how he became blind, though it was known that he was born able to see; his widow later claimed that it was the result of abuse by his stepmother. Johnson got a cigar box guitar as a child and learned to play; he was widely known as an accomplished gospel singer long before he began recording music in the late 1920s. Though only 30 recordings of Johnson’s have been found, they remain a hallmark in the development of early jazz, blues, and gospel music.
19. Jeff Healey
Jeff Healey was a Canadian singer and guitarist who lost his eyes to cancer as a toddler. Nevertheless, he showed an interest in learning to play the guitar at just age three. To accommodate for his lack of sight, Healey played with the guitar flat on his lap, a style that would become his signature over the course of his career. He was discovered playing in local clubs and became so famous that he starred in Road House alongside Patrick Swayze in 1989. His success continued into the 90s, during which time he released a series of top hits.
20. Ronnie Milsap
Ronnie Lee Milsap is a country music singer and pianist whose work has been widely acclaimed in the genre. He was born blind as the result of a congenital disorder, losing the limited vision he had after being struck on the head as a child. He loved listening to the radio and learned to play the piano. With the development of genres such as rock and roll and R&B, Milsap turned his interest to this more contemporary sound. His career took off in the early 1970s when he was encouraged to try country music.
21. Lennie Tristano
Lennie Tristano was one of the most influential early jazz pianists. His mother caught Spanish influenza during her pregnancy, causing him to be born with poor eyesight in 1919. When he was six, he contracted measles, which developed into glaucoma until he was totally blind at the age of 10. Nevertheless, Tristano was a versatile and enthusiastic musician, playing the piano, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, and drums. His compositions were influential in the development of early jazz instrumental music, as well as bebop and post-bop.
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