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!
In this post, we’re going to look at the lives of 15 of the most famous blind musicians.
1. Stevie Wonder (1950-)
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, and this condition is known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).
But that didn’t stop this child prodigy from playing the piano, drums, and the harmonica.
At eleven years old he signed a record deal with Motown’s Tamla label, and by the time he was thirteen, he had a number one hit, “Fingertips.”
Wonder is still recognized as the youngest artist to ever top the Billboard Hot 100.
Over his fifty-year career, Stevie Wonder’s hit songs include “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” “Sir Duke,” and “Superstition.”
2. Ray Charles (1930-2004)
Ray Charles is an influential blind musician who passed away in 2004.
Charles started losing his sight at four years old because of juvenile glaucoma.
By 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 nineteen years old, Ray Charles released his first single, “Confession Blues.”
A year later he released “I Got a Woman” and it reached No. 1 on the R&B Charts.
Throughout his career, Charles wrote almost 200 songs.
Charles also started a foundation for children who are deaf or have hearing disorders.
3. Andrea Bocelli (1958-)
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 twelve, after a football accident, he became completely blind.
However, he was considered a child prodigy and a truly talented musician and Bocelli can play the drums, flute, guitar, and saxophone.
Bocelli became famous in the mid-1990s during a performance at the 44th Sanremo Music Festival.
He has since sold over 75 million records (including pop, classical, opera, and greatest hits) and tours internationally.
4. George Shearing (1919-2011)
The youngest of nine children, George Shearing was a famous self-taught jazz musician.
Born in 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.
He joined an all-blind band and made his first BBC radio broadcast in 1937.
In 1949 he started the George Shearing Quintet and released the hit song “September in the Rain.”
He moved to the United States and continued to make records and tour live until his death in 2011.
5. Diane Schuur (1953-)
Grammy-award winner Diane Schuur is an accomplished singer that enjoys all kinds of music.
She is most known for her jazz songs but also plays the 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 (1998-)
Nobuyuki Tsujii is a brilliant Japanese pianist and composer who was born in 1998.
Tsujii suffered microphthalmia, or malformations of the eye, at birth.
But he had a natural talent to hear 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.
He now is a world-famous pianist who has won countless awards and performs with orchestras around the world.
7. Art Tatum (1909-1956)
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 (1945-)
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.
But she learned to play the piano at three years old and sang in the church choir at a young age.
When she was eighteen years old, she moved to Nashville to pursue a music career.
Gibbs’ hits include “Somebody’s Knockin’,” which was No. 8 on the country charts in 1980, “Rich Man,” “Ashes to Ashes,” and “Mis’ry River.”
9. Lennie Tristano (1919-1978)
Leonard “Lennie” Tristano was born in 1919 in Chicago, Illinois.
He lived to be 59 years old and would become one of America’s most prominent jazz musicians.
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 that likely worsened his condition.
By the age of nine or ten, he was completely blind due to glaucoma.
He attended the Illinois School for the Blind in Jacksonville, Illinois, and learned to play the clarinet, drums, guitar, saxophone, and trumpet.
He had already learned how to play the piano at eight years old.
Tristano developed his love of music into a lifelong career and played in several bands.
He eventually moved to New York City and would play with other popular artists, such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
10. Marcus Roberts (1963-)
Marcus Roberts is a popular blind musician who also happens to be the son of another famous blind gospel artist, Coretta Roberts.
At the age of five, Marcus Roberts went blind due to glaucoma and cataracts.
He attended the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida, which also happened to be the same school Ray Charles went to.
Roberts taught himself how to play the piano when he was young and received his first lesson at 12 years old.
Marcus Roberts and his band (The Marcus Roberts Trio) hit the charts in the mid-1990s with jazz favorites such as “Gershwin for Lovers,” “Time and Circumstance,” and “Blues for the New Millennium.”
11. Ronnie Milsap (1943-)
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 pursued a career in music and first appeared on the R&B chart in 1965 with the song “Never Had It So Good.”
12. Jeff Healey (1966-2008)
Jeff Healey was a famous Canadian guitarist and singer-songwriter who died in 2008 at the age of 41.
Healy 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.
This school is where 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.”
13. Raul Midon (1966-)
Raul Midon and his twin brother, Marco, were blinded as infants after being in an incubator without proper eye protection.
Today, Midon is a popular jazz and Latin pop/jazz musician.
Born in Embudo, New Mexico in 1966, Midon fell in love with the drums at four years old.
He would later attend a school for the blind and learned to play the guitar.
He then attended the University of Miami and studied jazz music.
Midon started his career as a studio singer for Latin artists such as Shakira, Julio Iglesias, and more.
He joined Manhattan Records and released his debut album “State of Mind” in 2005.
The album features Stevie Wonder, one of Midon’s idols.
14. Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999)
At three years old, Joaquin Rodrigo suffered from Diptheria and lost his sight.
At the time of his passing, Rodrigo was one of Spain’s most beloved composers and violinists.
Born in Sagunto, Spain, Rodrigo started playing the piano and violin at eight years old when he attended a school for the blind in Italy.
He wrote his first piano composition when he was 23 years old.
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.
15. Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945)
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, Blind Willie 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. I
We’ll be updating this post with more musicians soon so let us know who we should add next.