Most Famous Blind Black Piano Players

One of the most complex musical instruments to play is the piano. So, you will be surprised at how famous blind pianists can master the keys when they can’t see them. In this article, I’ll discuss the most famous black blind piano players the world has known and how they became master pianists.

If you are making a list of the most renowned blind black piano artists, you will not miss seeing the names of the following:

  1. Stevie Wonder
  2. Ray Charles
  3. Art Tatum
  4. Marcus Roberts
  5. Blind John Davis
  6. Tom Wiggins
  7. Matthew Whitaker

If you ask the average person today, he will tell you that Stevie Wonder is the most famous of all blind pianists, not just African Americans. The reason is that Stevie Wonder is still alive and active in his career. Second on the list would be Ray Charles, only because he is already gone but certainly not second in piano virtuosity to Stevie Wonder.

Read on to learn more about the most renowned blind black pianists and some exciting details you may not know.

Most Famous Blind Black Piano Players

most famous blind black piano players

If you list the world’s most famous blind black pianists, it will include the likes of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. They are two of the most well-known African American pianists who have graced the entertainment industry over the past 50 years.

Sadly, Ray Charles is no longer with us, so, almost always, in the minds of today’s music lovers, Stevie Wonder takes the number one spot. But indeed, Ray Charles’s piano prowess and songwriting capabilities were not too far from that of Stevie Wonder.

But what about the other black and blind pianists that music lovers (not necessarily the hoi polloi) also admire and adore? These blind black musicians deserve our admiration and appreciation as much as Ray and Stevie, even if they are not as famous.

It’s a toss-up between Stevie and Ray as to who gets the top spot. Many people say it’s Stevie, but many others say it is Ray. But let’s not forget the others.

That’s one of the reasons why I composed this article. So, here’s my list of the most famous black and blind piano artists in the world.

Stevie Wonder

Famous During the 60s Up to the Late 80s

Stevie Wonder needs no introduction to those who were teenagers during the 60s and the 70s, even up to the late 80s. Those were the most prolific decades of Stevie when he wrote and sold most of his iconic songs, such as “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “All Is Fair in Love,” and “Superstition.”

Born Prematurely Due to Retinopathy of Prematurity

Even when the Beatles had broken up, Stevie still managed to market a hit song with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney titled “Ebony and Ivory.” Success is sweet for Stevie, who was born prematurely, resulting in his medical condition of retinopathy of prematurity.

Self-taught Pianist

Stevie taught himself piano after his family moved to Detroit. He was then aged 10. At the same time, he also taught himself harmonica and drums. Proof that his music is endearing to the masses is his induction into the R&B Hall of Fame in 2019.

Inspired by Ray Charles

Stevie, as some bio reports say, was inspired by Ray Charles. He was regarded as a child prodigy, having achieved a level of expertise in piano playing at a very early age of 11. His early music training includes being a choir member in his church.

Collaborated with Several Artists

Aside from Paul McCartney, Stevie has also collaborated with other recording artists who are the Who’s Who of their day. They include Dionne Warwick, Michael Jackson, Elton John, and almost all the hit makers of the 80s and the 90s.

Here’s a video that will show you how talented Stevie is when it comes to singing and playing the piano:

Ray Charles

Developed Juvenile Glaucoma at Age Seven

Another blind black piano player and singer is Ray Charles. But in contrast to Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, the second African American pianist on my list, was not born blind.

He started to have problems with his eyesight at age 5. At age seven, Ray developed juvenile glaucoma, eventually leading to his total blindness.

Learned Classical Piano Playing Using the Braille Method

However, before becoming completely blind, Ray learned to play the piano. He developed his talent early at his school. Ray was taught by a music teacher about classical piano playing using the braille method. It was a complex process learning to read braille and learning the piano simultaneously.

Learned to Play Blues and Jazz

He was then already able to navigate the piano keys. What made him a great pianist was that he resolved to keep mastering the piano even if he lost his eyesight. As he learned the piano, he also learned to play blues and jazz, the music genre closest to his heart.

Laid the Foundation of Soulful Music

The main contribution of Ray Charles to American music is the laying of the foundation of soulful music. Aside from being a good piano player, Ray was also an accomplished songwriter. That’s probably one of the reasons Ray Charles inspired Stevie Wonder.

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012

Ray’s prowess as a pianist, songwriter, and trailblazer of soul music was recognized posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. He was just the third African American to be given this award.

You can best appreciate Ray’s singing and piano playing if you will watch this video:

Art Tatum

blind black guy that plays piano

Infantile Cataracts Caused His Blindness

When piano virtuosity is discussed, the name Art Tatum will always be a part of the discussion. The fact that he was blind but was still regarded as one of the greatest piano players in America is what will make you admire the man.

Largely Self-taught

Infantile cataracts caused his blindness. This condition caused him to be blind in one eye. Even his other eye only afforded him minimal vision. So, with regard to piano playing, he was largely self-taught. Art started with the violin but eventually ended up playing the piano entirely.

Played Radio Tunes and Memorized Reels from Victrolas

To offset his poor eyesight, Art played radio tunes and memorized reels from Victrolas (early phonographs) by ear. By the age of three, Art could already imitate tunes and recordings.

At a very early stage of his life, his fingers were already very fast when playing the piano. What was amazing was that all the notes were accurately played.

Led the Way in Utilizing Harmonic Distortions in Jazz Music

The improvisation skill of Art was legendary. He could insert complicated chords between bars in harmonic progressions that were very advanced during this time. Art was credited as the one who led the way in utilizing harmonic distortions in jazz music.

You will still see his influence on the pianists of today, blind or not blind. Unfortunately, Art is no longer with us. His being a piano prodigy has succumbed to his being a prodigious drinker. But don’t mind that – we are focused on his piano virtuosity. You can see how he plays the piano in this video:

Marcus Roberts

Lost His Sight at Five Years Old

Another blind and black pianist who earned fame during his life is Marcus Roberts. Marcus also lost his sight at an early age, at five years old. But knowing his musical abilities, his parents gifted him with a piano. He was delighted and happily walked into it.

Started His Piano Lessons at 12

He was born in Florida. All his family members were musicians, his mother being a religious singer. When Marcus was only four years old, his eyes began to develop glaucoma and cataracts. It was only when he was 12 that Marcus started his formal piano lessons.

Got His Early Music Training by Listening for Hours on the Radio

He got his early music training by listening for hours on the radio and picking out the melodies by ear. This was how Stevie Wonder, a Marcus friend, recounted Marcus’s early music training. At first, he played the piano keys with only four fingers.

Went to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind

He went to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. This is also the school where Ray Charles got his early piano lessons and training.

When his music teachers noticed that he was only using his four fingers on both hands, they said he could also use his thumbs. That dramatically transformed the way Marcus played his piano.

Mainly a Jazz Musician and a Composer

His piano playing reminds you of how great piano players of the past made their music. But Marcus also developed his style that segues and sways in its unique ways.

Aside from Jazz, Marcus also is good at playing classical music and swing. But mainly, he is a jazz musician and a composer. His fame started in the 1980s when he joined the Wynton Marsalis Band.

Started Several Bands

But his ragtime piano playing style made him different from the rest of his band mates. After that stint, Marcus started his band and several bands after that. He has also made several recordings as a band member and leader.

Blind John Davis

Davis’ Piano Playing Was Described as Possessing an Elegant Sophistication

Another black and blind pianist that is worthy of being included in our list is Blind John Davis. His piano playing was described as possessing an elegant sophistication. He has had admirers not only in the United States but also in Europe.

Played Overseas as an American Blues Artist

A biographer even claims that Blind John Davis may have been the first overseas gig for any American blues artist. After his first European performance, Davis seemed to prefer to play in that continent until he died in 1985 in Chicago.

Lost His Sight at the Age of Nine

Blind John Davis was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on Dec. 7, 1913. His family transferred to Chicago when he was still two years old. At the age of nine, John lost his sight. In his early musical career, he backed up Merline Johnson.

Became a Reliable and Famous Accompanying Pianist

When he reached his mid-twenties, John became a reliable and famous accompanying pianist. He also recorded music of his own and sang with his lightweight voice.

When he toured Europe in 1952, he was the first African American blues pianist to do so. He enjoyed a higher profile in Europe than in the United States.

Tom Wiggins

list of blind piano players

Born Blind

Born blind at birth and in a family of enslaved people, Tom Wiggins was sold as an infant with his parents in 1850.

Their buyer advocates secession and a newspaper editor in the South. If his historical accounts are accurate, Tom will be regarded today as an autistic savant.

Was Able to Memorize Entire Musical Compositions

He had terrific abilities that no ordinary man could do. Tom was able to memorize entire musical compositions and conversations. He can repeat what he heard verbatim after hearing it only once.

Considered a Pianist with Fantastic Skill and Expressive Playing

Blind Tom was the stage name of Thomas Greene Wiggins. Many musical authorities consider him a pianist with fantastic skill, incredible memory, and expressive playing. During his time, however, he was still regarded as lesser than humans and nearer to animals.

Exploited by His Enslavers for Financial Gains

As such, he and his musical talents were exploited by his white enslavers for their financial gains. John Bethune, one of his owners, made a fortune by displaying Tom’s unique abilities on tours around the United States at that time.

Matthew Whitaker

Born Blind

Matthew Whitaker is another black and blind pianist worthy of inclusion on our list. He is still young, age 20, but he was also born blind. His birthplace was in Hackensack, New Jersey. Matthew has already shown his potential as a piano virtuoso at an early age.

Performed the Opening Number for Stevie Wonder’s Induction Into the Hall of Fame

When he was ten, he performed the opening number for Stevie Wonder’s induction into the Hall of Fame at the Apollo Theater. Stevie is one of their musical idols of Matthew. They share the same style of piano playing.

Displayed Excellent Piano and Organ Playing Techniques

Matthew has already performed at Carnegie Hall, aside from other major venues around the country. Plus, he has displayed excellent techniques both on the piano and the organ. He also performs very well. Lastly, he has taken to the stage more naturally than other performers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most of us have assumed that of all the famous blind pianists we know, only two are black. Now you know that there are more. Perhaps you still have some questions about this topic that are left unanswered. If you keep on reading, you might find your answers below:

Who Are the Most Famous Black and Blind Pianists in America?

By the latest count, who is the most famous black and blind pianist in America?

If you include the living and the dead, we have seven black and blind African American famous pianists. They are the following:

  1. Stevie Wonder
  2. Ray Charles
  3. Art Tatum
  4. Marcus Roberts
  5. Blind John Davis
  6. Tom Wiggins
  7. Matthew Whitaker

Who Are the Famous Black and Blind Pianists That Are Still Alive and Doing Well with Their Careers?

The living pianists on the list are Stevie Wonder, Marcus Roberts, and Matthew Whitaker. All the rest, including Ray Charles, Art Tatum, Blind John Davis, and Tom Wiggins, have already left this world.

Who Among These Black and Blind Pianists Were Self-taught?

Almost all of the pianists included in the above list are self-taught, except Ray Charles and Matthew Whitaker.

In Closing: Most Renowned Blind Black Piano Players

To make a list of the world’s most renowned blind black piano players, you should include the following names:

  1. Stevie Wonder
  2. Ray Charles
  3. Art Tatum
  4. Marcus Roberts
  5. Blind John Davis
  6. Tom Wiggins
  7. Matthew Whitaker

Of all the seven pianists listed above, only Stevie Wonder, Matthew Whitaker, and Marcus Roberts are actively pursuing their musical careers. The rest, including Ray Charles, Art Tatum, Blind John Davis, and Tom Wiggins, have already gone to their resting places.