The world as we know it has never lacked talented and creative artist especially musicians, but what is perhaps rare to come by are musicians who also happen to be blind.
Among these rare gifted but blind artist are black musicians who are most often associated with the country blues. The first successful male country blues performer, Blind Lemon Jefferson, was blind, as were many other country blue singers including Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson, Sonny Terry, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake and Reverend Gary Davis.
Some of the first recorded gospel piano artist such as Arizona Dranes,Al Hibbler, and Ray Charles were blind. One of the most important figures in the creation of soul music. Art Tatum, commonly known as the greatest jazz pianist of all time, was also blind.
This weekend, Dambela presents Ten of this musicians who did not allow their visual disability to get in the way of showcasing their musical talent to the world.
1. Stevie Wonder (May 13, 1950)
Stevie Wonder, a native of Michigan, was born six weeks prematurely and became blind as a result of retinopathy of prematurity, a condition that causes the retinas to detach. The child prodigy’s musical gifts became visible as a young child. At age eleven, he signed on to his first label with Motown’s Tamla label and became known as “Little Stevie Wonder.” Today, he is considered one of the most successful singers and songwriters of the twentieth century.
Wonder has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has recorded more than thirty U.S. top ten hits and won twenty-two Grammy Awards (the most ever won by a solo artist in history).
For his musical career. He has won 22 Grammy Awards. He was the first Motown artist and second African-American musician to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song, for the 1984 film The Woman in Red.
Wonder has been inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. He also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2009, he was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 2014, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
2. Ray Charles (1930-2004)
Ray Charles, an iconic American composer and musician, His sight began diminishing at age four, due to juvenile glaucoma. By age seven, he was completely blind. Often called “Brother Ray,” and “The Genius,” Charles was instrumental to the rise of soul music, a genre that arose from the merging of gospel music and blues.
For his musical contributions, Charles was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, and the Polar Music Prize. He also won 17 Grammy Awards, including 5 posthumously. Charles was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987, and 10 of his recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. He has been featured on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and No. 2 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
3. Rod Clemmons (1945)
A native of Arkansas. Rod Clemmons was born blind. Despite his disability he was a musically gifted child who began playing piano at the age of three. He went on to attend Indiana University Jacob School of Music on a full scholarship.
He is a New York City based R & B singer, songwriter, and producer. He released an album titled What’s Up? It’s Me.
4. Jeff Healy (1966-2008)
A native of Canada, Jeff Healy became blind as a young child as a result of retinoblastoma. At the age of three, he began playing the guitar as a blues-rock vocalist. He went to become a professional jazz singer and guitarist.
The blind songwriter gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. He reached No. 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Angel Eyes” and reached the Top 10 in Canada with the songs “I Think I Love You Too Much” and “How Long Can a Man Be Strong”. He also featured in Patrick Swayze’s Road House movie.
5. Nobuyuki Tsujii (1998-present)
Nobuyki Tsujii is a Japanese pianist. Know for his exceptional talent. Born blind due to microphthalmia, he began playing by ear on a toy piano at age two and began taking piano lessons at age four.
Today, he is a renowned pianist. He frequently performs with a large number of orchestras and conductors, a major accolade for someone born blind.
In 2009, the Japanese singer became the first blind pianist to win the top prize at a major international competition at age 20, He also won a award at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He was also awarded the Beverley Taylor Smith Award for the Best Performance of a New Work
6. Diane Schuur (December 10, 1953)
Diana Schuur is an American jazz singer and pianist, nicknamed “Deedles”. She was born blind due to retinopathy of prematurity. She began singing at the age of three. She taught herself to play the piano by ear after becoming frustrated by braille sheet music. She went on to perform publicly for the first time at age ten. Schuur is known for an eclectic musical style, and has released albums of both jazz and country music.
As of 2015, Schuur had released 23 albums, and had extended her jazz repertoire to include essences of Latin, gospel, pop and country music. Her most successful album is Diane Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra, which remained number one on the Billboard Jazz Charts for 33 weeks. She won Grammy Awards for best female jazz vocal performance in both 1986 and 1987 and has had three other Grammy nominations to her credit.
She has performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and the White House, and has performed with many artists including Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Wonder. In 2000 she was awarded the Helen Keller Achievement Award by the American Foundation for the Blind.
7. Ronnie Milsap (1943-present)
He is an American country music singer and pianist. A native of North Carolina, He was born almost completely blind due to a congenital disorder. During a very challenging childhood, Milsap developed a love for music.
He became one of the country music’s most popular and influential performers of the 1970s and 1980s. His songs appealed to both country and pop music markets especially with his hit songs that incorporated pop, R&B, and rock and roll elements.
His biggest crossover hits include “It Was Almost Like a Song”, “Smoky Mountain Rain”, “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me”, “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World”, “Any Day Now”, and “Stranger in My House”. He is credited with six Grammy Awards and thirty-five No. 1 country hits, third to George Strait and Conway Twitty. He got inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
His most famous songs include “Stranger in My House,” and “There’s No Getting Over Me.”
8. Andrea Bocelli (1958-present)
Andrea Bocelli is an Italian opera singer and songwriter. Bocelli was born with congenital glaucoma, which caused a huge loss of his vision. He became completely blind at age twelve, after a football accident.
Bocelli was a musically gifted child, playing flute, saxophone, guitar, and drums. He went on to become an award-winning opera vocalist. The Italian pop tenor is the biggest-selling singer in the history of classical music, with worldwide sales exceeding 70 million copies.
He rose to fame in 1994, winning the preliminary round of the 44th Sanremo Music Festival while performing “Miserere”, with the highest marks ever recorded in the newcomers section.
He has had success as a crossover performer, bringing classical music to the top of international pop charts. His first compilation album, Romanza, became one of the best-selling albums of all time, while his album Sacred Arias is the biggest selling classical album by any solo artist in history.
My Christmas was the best-selling holiday album of 2009 and one of the best-selling holiday albums in the United States.
He sang with Celine Dion on the song “The Prayer” for the animated film Quest for Camelot, which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and was alsonominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In 1999, he was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards.
In 2016, Bocelli was made a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 2 March 2010 for his contribution to Live Theater. Singer Celine Dion once said of him “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli”.
His voice has often been described as the most beautiful in the world.
9. Jose Feliciano (1945-present)
Jose Feliciano is a Puerto Rican singer and composer, Feliciano was born blind; He is best known for many international hits, including his rendition of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and the best-selling Christmas hit single, “Feliz Navidad.”” His musical talents became evident when he turned seven years as he began to teach himself to play the accordion. He also began singing.
He began his musical career as a young adult by performing in bars and clubs in major U.S. cities and in Canada. His music is known for its fusion of styles—Latin, jazz, blues, soul and even rock—created primarily with his unique, signature acoustic guitar sound.
So far in his music career, he has released over fifty albums, worldwide, in both English and Spanish.
10. Terri Gibbs (1954-present)
A native of Miami. Terri Gibbs is an American country music artist known for her debut single “Somebody’s Knockin.’” She became blind as newborn baby, due to an incubator accident. Despite her loss of sight, she began playing the piano at age three and went on to sing in a church choir. Her hit single launched her career as a country music sensation, although her musical focus would go on to shift to contemporary Christian.
Between 1980 and 2017 of her music career, she has recorded eleven studio albums, including four for MCA Records and one for Warner Bros. Records. She also charted 13 singles on the Billboard country singles charts in that timespan, including her debut single “Somebody’s Knockin'”, which reached No. 8 on the country charts, No. 13 on the pop charts and No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary charts. She also entered the country top 20 with “Rich Man”, “Mis’ry River”, “Ashes to Ashes” and “Anybody Else’s Heart but Mine.”
So when next you admire gifted singers without any physical disability. Just know the real gifted singers are those born blind. DO you agree with our list. Lets hear your opinion.