15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Blind Musicians

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Blindness is often seen as a disability that prevents one from achieving their full potential. However, there are many famous blind musicians who have achieved an incredible amount of success in spite of being visually impaired.

Blindness clearly hasn’t stopped these musicians from succeeding and making beautiful music! These gifted individuals, despite their inability to see, have navigated the world of rhythm and harmony with remarkable skill and finesse.

In this post, we’re going to look at the lives of 15 of the greatest and most famous blind musicians. Ready? Let’s get started!

1. Stevie Wonder

One of the most successful blind musicians of all time is Michigan native, Stevie Wonder. He was born six weeks premature, and his eyes never fully developed; this condition is known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

However, that didn’t stop this child prodigy from playing the piano, drums, and the harmonica. When he was 11, he signed a record deal with Motown’s Tamla label, and by the time he was 13, he had released a #1 hit, “Fingertips.”

Wonder is still recognized as the youngest artist to ever top the Billboard Hot 100. Over his 50-year career, Stevie Wonder’s hit songs include “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” “Sir Duke,” and “Superstition.”

2. Ray Charles

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Up next is Ray Charles. This influential musician started losing his sight at four years old because of juvenile glaucoma. By the time he was seven years old, he was blind, but he had already learned to play the piano and was a natural talent.

At a young age, Charles taught himself the basics and went on to become a leader in soul music, which is a combination of blues and jazz.

In 1949, at 19 years old, Charles released his first single, “Confession Blues.” A year later, he released “I Got a Woman,” which reached #1 on the R&B Charts.

Throughout his career, Charles wrote almost 200 songs. He also started a foundation for children who are deaf or have hearing disorders. Sadly, he passed away in 2004.

3. Andrea Bocelli

Often recognized as the most beautiful voice in the world, Andrea Bocelli is a world-renowned Italian opera singer.

Bocelli was born with severely diminished eyesight due to congenital glaucoma, and at the age of 122, after a football accident, he became completely blind.

However, he was considered a child prodigy and a truly talented musician — Bocelli can play the flute, guitar, drums, and saxophone.

His rise to fame came in the mid-1990s during a performance at the 44th Sanremo Music Festival. Since then, Bocelli has sold over 75 million records (including pop, classical, opera, and greatest hits) and tours internationally.

4. George Shearing

The youngest of nine children, George Shearing was a famous self-taught jazz musician. Hailing from Battersea, London, Shearing was born blind and attended the Linden Lodge School for the Blind.

At three years old, he taught himself how to play the piano and the accordion. In 1937, he joined an all-blind band and made his first BBC radio broadcast. Then in 1949, he started the George Shearing Quintet and released the hit song “September in the Rain.”

Later in his career, Shearing moved to the United States. Here, he continued to make records and tour live until his death in 2011.

5. Diane Schuur

Grammy-award winner Diane Schuur is an accomplished singer who enjoys all kinds of music. She is most known for her jazz songs but also plays blues, country, and gospel music.

Schuur was born premature and blind in December 1953, and she taught herself to play the piano by ear at a young age. She would later go on to study music and voice at the University of Puget Sound.

Her voice caught the attention of Doc Severinsen in 1975, and Schuur was soon performing across the country. In 1999, she was one of the musical performers at the Kennedy Center Honors when Stevie Wonder was honored with the award.

6. Nobuyuki Tsujii

Our next musician is Nobuyuki Tsujii, a brilliant Japanese pianist and composer who was born in 1998.

Tsujii suffered microphthalmia, or malformations of the eye, at birth. However, he had a natural talent for hearing the notes of a song.

At the age of two, he started playing familiar songs by ear on a toy piano. He started taking lessons at four years old but continues (to this day) to learn songs by ear. This technique of learning songs by ear is what makes Nobuyuki Tsujii a master musician.

Today, he is a world-famous pianist who has won countless awards and performs with orchestras around the world.

7. Art Tatum

Completely blind in one eye and partially blind in the other, Art Tatum is a famous jazz musician. Although he did not enjoy fame and avoided the spotlight, his talents influenced the world of jazz.

Tatum was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1909 and began playing piano at a young age. He had an incredible ear and reportedly perfect pitch. These gifts, along with an excellent memory, gave Tatum the skills required for a successful music career.

His technique was the most significant and memorable part of his career. It is said that he revolutionized jazz with innovative harmonies and tones.

8. Terri Gibbs

Born in Miami, Florida, Terri Gibbs is a country artist turned contemporary Christian artist with eleven recorded albums since her 1980 debut.

As a premature newborn, Gibbs became blind because of an incubator incident at the hospital. However, she learned to play the piano at three years old and sang in the church choir at a young age.

When she was 18 years old, she moved to Nashville to pursue a music career. Gibbs’ hits include “Somebody’s Knockin’,” which was #8 on the country charts in 1980, “Rich Man,” “Ashes to Ashes,” and “Mis’ry River.” 

9. Lennie Tristano

Up next is Leonard “Lennie” Tristano, born in 1919 in Chicago, Illinois. As an artist and teacher, he influenced the style of jazz in the 1940s and ’50s. 

Although born with poor eyesight, Tristano suffered measles when he was six years old, which likely worsened his condition. By the age of nine or 10, he was completely blind due to glaucoma.

At a young age, Tristano learned to play the piano. He later attended the Illinois School for the Blind in Jacksonville, Illinois, and learned to play the clarinet, guitar, saxophone, drums, and trumpet.

Tristano developed his love of music into a lifelong career and played in several bands. He eventually moved to New York City. Here, he would play with other popular artists, such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and become one of America’s most prominent jazz musicians.

10. Marcus Roberts

Jazz pianist and composer Marcus Roberts is a popular blind musician. He is the son of the iconic gospel artist Correta Roberts, who also happens to be blind.

At the age of five, Marcus went blind due to glaucoma and cataracts. He taught himself how to play the piano when he was young and received his first lesson at 12 years old. He later attended the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida — the same school Ray Charles went to.

Marcus Roberts and his band (The Marcus Roberts Trio) hit the charts in the mid-1990s with jazz album favorites such as Gershwin for Lovers, Time and Circumstance, and Blues for the New Millennium.

11. Ronnie Milsap

Our next musician, Ronnie Milsap, is considered one of country music’s greatest musicians. His greatest hits include “It Was Almost Like a Song,” “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me,” and “Stranger in My House.”

Milsap was born almost completely blind from a congenital disorder. He had a difficult childhood and, by the age of 14, lost full vision in his left eye. 

However, Milsap was drawn to music from an early age and had a natural talent. In the mid-1960s, he decided to channel his passion into a career in music.

Making his debut on the R&B chart in 1965 with the song “Never Had It So Good,” Milsap embarked on a journey that would see him rise to become one of the most celebrated musicians in country music.

12. Jeff Healey

Canadian guitarist and singer-songwriter Jeff Healey was blind from retinoblastoma, or eye cancer, at the age of one.

When he was young, he went to a school for the blind and learned to play the guitar. In school, he started playing the guitar in his lap, which would become his signature move.

The Jeff Healey Band became famous in the late 1980s with the hit “See the Light.” The band also made an appearance in the Patrick Swayze movie Road House.

The singer’s remarkable life, however, was tragically cut short. In 2008, at the age of 41, Healey passed away due to cancer.

13. Raul Midón

New Mexican artists Raul Midón and his twin brother, Marco, were blinded as infants after being in an incubator without proper eye protection. Today, Raul is a popular jazz and Latin pop/jazz musician.

Born in Embudo, New Mexico, in 1966, Raul fell in love with the drums at four years old. He would later attend a school for the blind and learn to play the guitar. He then attended the University of Miami and studied jazz music.

Raul started his career as a studio singer for Latin artists such as Shakira, Julio Iglesias, and more. He joined Manhattan Records and, in 2005, released his debut album, State of Mind. The album features Stevie Wonder, one of Raul’s idols.

14. Joaquin Rodrigo

Born in Sagunto, Spain, Joaquin Rodrigo suffered from diphtheria and lost his sight At three years old. He started playing the piano and violin at eight years old when he attended a school for the blind in Italy.

When he was 23 years old, he wrote his first piano composition. Rodrigo’s most popular piece was composed in 1939 and is titled “Concierto de Aranjuez.” His second popular piece, and often paired together, is “Fantasia para un gentilhombre.” Both pieces are concertos for guitar and orchestra.

Rodrigo died in Madrid in 1999; he was 97 years old. At the time of his passing, He was one of Spain’s most beloved composers and violinists.

15. Blind Willie Johnson

You may not recognize Blind Willie Johnson, but he’s considered one of the greatest bottleneck slide guitarists that ever played. Artists such as Eric Clapton and The White Stripes have since covered some of his songs, even though Johnson died poor and underappreciated.

Although it is uncertain how Johnson lost his sight, his vision was impaired from an early age. Whether it was from a lye incident or a result of directly looking at the 1905 solar eclipse, Johnson did not let the disability interrupt his musical career.

In the late 1920s, Johnson recorded 30 songs that showcased his deep voice and slide guitar abilities. His songs include “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” and “The Soul of a Man.”

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Blind Musicians

It’s inspiring to see how many famous blind musicians have gone on to achieve great things in their careers.

Whether they became well-known for playing an instrument or singing, these examples of success serve as inspiration for people who are faced with similar challenges.

We’ll be updating this post with more musicians soon, so let us know who we should add next.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.