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The 12 greatest blind pianists of all time

The talent on this list is frightening, and when we add the fact that these musicians were legally blind, it’s hard to believe.

Not only are these pianists some of the most gifted musicians in their field, but they have some of the most inspirational stories too.

greatest blind pianists

Sadly, many of these legendary pianists have passed away, but we can still learn a great deal from them.

In this article, we will first pay tribute to those no longer with us, then discuss some outrageous talents who are still active today.

Blind piano legends that we can never forget

Ray Charles (1930 – 2004)

Ray Charles was a once-in-a-lifetime talent who is often credited with pioneering Soul music.

He began playing piano at five years old and started losing his sight just a year later, most probably from glaucoma.

By seven, he was completely blind, and against all odds, he was playing piano professionally at 15.

Ray Charles could mimic any style of playing, and he brought together many genres, including a love of country music.

It was in 1959, Charles had his first (self-written) million-selling hit record with What I’d Say. That song, along with others like I’ve Got A Woman and Hallelujah I Love You So, made it clear that Ray Charles was something truly unique.

Art Tatum (1909 – 1956)

People regularly talk about Art Tatum as one of the greatest Jazz pianists ever, and rightly so.

But, the fact that he was legally blind doesn’t come up in most conversations, and we think the reason for that is simply that he was so exceptionally good.

It’s hard enough to fathom how he managed to play the way he did, let alone that he did it unsighted.

Tatum was inspired by the early pioneers of stride piano like James P Johnson and Fats Waller. More surprisingly, he idolized the more understated piano-stylings of Earl Hines.

Art Tatum went on to inspire generations of pianists, including the legendary Oscar Peterson.

Tatum’s style had many qualities, but the overwhelming feeling after hearing him is always how did one pianist play that?

George Shearing (1919 – 2011)

Unlike some of the other pianists on our list, George Shearing was blind from birth.

Shearing moved permanently to the US in 1947 and immediately made his mark on the Jazz world, particularly the Bebop scene.

The Bebop scene in New York was led by some of the fiercest talents in Jazz history, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. To break into that group, you have to be a special talent.

George Shearing not only broke into that elite group, but he was also one of the most admired by all.

Going into the 1950s, he was seen as the benchmark for what could be considered cool in Jazz.

His signature sound came from his big band heroes; he merged the voicings of Glen Miller’s saxophone section with the locked-hands style of Milt Buckner (Lionel Hampton’s band).

The Shearing sound is as cool today as it was 70 years ago.

Joaquin Rodrigo (1901 – 1999)

Joaquin Rodrigo is something of a cult hero in Spain. Born in Sagunto, the blind pianist gave Spain a place at the table with the other great nations of Classical music.

He was a traditionalist at heart, although he managed to create a style that adapted to the modern era while staying true to his roots.

Through clever use of rhythm and melody, he captured the essence of Spanish culture in his playing.

Despite being one of the greatest pianists we have ever known, he is perhaps more famous for a guitar-based composition. His work Concierto De Aranjuez is the measure of any gifted classical guitarist.

Rodrigo is a fine example of exhibiting flair only in the right places.

Moondog (1916 – 1999)

Louis Thomas Hardin, better known as Moondog, is a cult figure in the music industry.

The story of how he lost his sight is far more unusual than most. At 16 years old, he picked up a live cap of dynamite in Kansas, which exploded, leaving him completely blind.

He spent much of his life on the streets in various cities and countries. It was in New York City where he became affectionately known as the Viking of 6th Avenue.

Many people who passed the street performer didn’t realize the magnitude of his talents.

Moondog has written hundreds of works, ranging from symphony orchestra arrangements to solo organ and piano pieces. His peers better recognized his talent than those who passed him on the street.

His music inspired even the likes of the great Charlie Parker. Moondog wrote the now-famous song, Bird’s Lament, upon hearing of Charlie Parker’s death.

Lennie Tristano (1919 – 1978)

Lennie Tristano was a magnificent but very underrated Jazz pianist. After studying in Chicago, he moved to New York in the mid-1940s, a city that was home to the biggest names in Jazz at the time.

Although his genius isn’t as widely appreciated as the likes of Bill Evans or Miles Davis, he was a central figure in a movement that they spearheaded.

Miles Davis is the man behind The Birth Of The Cool, not just the album, the arrival of Cool Jazz. But, Lennie Tristano was someone who helped shape that movement with both his playing and compositional styles.

Even in his arranging, his attention to detail had so much in common with Miles Davis.

Tristano selflessly dedicated much of his life to teaching and creating a platform for his students to make their name. He was a celebrated improviser and an unassuming genius.

The greatest blind pianists active today

Stevie Wonder (born 1950)

Out of everyone on our list, this man is probably the least in need of introduction; he is a global superstar.

Stevie Wonder was a precocious talent as a youngster and developed that talent while spending time at Motown’s Hitsville USA studio.

While there, even before his first records, he was surrounded by the best session musicians in the world.

Stevie didn’t stop at the piano, and before too long, there wasn’t an instrument in the studio that he didn’t play better than most.

He is known for his funky percussive style of play with the Clavinet, and Fender Rhodes on hits like Superstitious and I Wish.

But he could do it all and often did during live shows by including Jazz standards like Chick Corea’s Spain.

Nobuyuki Tsujii (born 1988)

Nobuyuki Tsujii is one of the few pianists on our list who was born blind.

This blind Classical pianist has a particular passion for Chopin and is hailed as one of the finest Chopin performers alive today.

In fact, he performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

Performing at Carnegie Hall is an honor reserved only for the most elite musicians. The list of blind pianists to have performed at the iconic venue is far shorter.

Tsujii has been described by many in the music industry as the epitome of a virtuoso, and few could carry that description better than he does.

Matthew Whitaker (born 2001)

Matthew Whitaker is the youngest pianist on our list at just 20 years old. Born blind in Hackensack, New Jersey, Matthew’s potential was clear from a very young age.

He has already graced the stage at Carnegie Hall amongst many other prestigious venues.

At the age of 10, Mathew was the opening act for Stevie Wonder’s induction into the Apollo Theatre’s Hall of Fame. Stevie Wonder is one of Matthew’s musical idols, and the gifted youngster shares a similar playing style.

Not only does he show phenomenal technique on both organ and piano, but he is a born performer, too.

Mathew has taken to being on stage more naturally than most, and his love of music is always front and center.

Derek Paravicini (born 1979)

Derek Paravicini provides one of the most motivating and inspiring stories of all. He has been blind since birth, has Autism, and happens to be one of the most astounding pianists ever.

Derek has a quite incredible ability to play almost anything after hearing it for the first time.

At age seven, he performed his first public concert in London. Ever since then, the adages prodigy and savant have followed him everywhere he goes.

Derek is also blessed with perfect pitch, which is the ability to recognize any musical note instantly.

He is best known for improvising works by anyone from J.S Bach to George Nat King Cole.

However, the one thing that will strike you as much as his talent is the evident joy he gets from playing the piano.

Andrea Bocelli (born 1958)

Andrea Bocelli is perhaps more commonly celebrated as one of the world’s leading Tenors, but he is, without a doubt, a piano virtuoso, too. In fact, the Italian musician is a very gifted multi-instrumentalist.

After being diagnosed with glaucoma at just five months old, Andrea was completely blind by the age of 12.

Being blind never held back Bocelli’s rise to musical stardom. He is one of the best-selling Classical artists alive today.

One of the reasons that his work is so popular is that, like all great musicians, he finds a way to move with the times.

He is perhaps most famous for performing Con Te Partirò (Time To Say Goodbye), which he did for the first at the Sanremo Festival in 1995.

Marcus Roberts (born 1963)

Marcus Roberts isn’t as famous as some names on our list, but he is just as gifted as any. He is an American Jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator.

Marcus was a lover of many sub-genres of Jazz, amongst them Bebop and Stride piano. At a very young age, he showed signs of technique akin to that of his musical idols, like Bud Powell.

In his 20s, he was touring with one of the most in-demand Jazz musicians of his time, Wynton Marsalis.

Wynton Marsalis, who is an esteemed educator himself, often hailed the talents of the young Marcus Roberts. As a jazz pianist, not much carries more acclaim than an endorsement from someone like Marsalis.

Marcus Roberts was so much a virtuoso; he would easily have held his own had he been around for the height of the Bebop era.

Conclusion

The talent shared amongst these pianists is absolutely incredible. Some of these pianists are already musical icons; others are well on their way.

What they have in common is that they are some of the best pianists in the world; they just happen to be blind, too.

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