Some of the most talented and accomplished pianists in the world are blind. Without the ability to see the keys or sheet music, blind piano players must rely on an incredible sense of sound, touch, and musicality to learn, memorize, and perform pieces. Let’s explore 10 of the most renowned blind piano players whose awe-inspiring gifts demonstrate that vision is not required to achieve musical mastery.
The 10 Best Blind Piano Players
In no particular order, the greatest blind piano players are…
1. Ray Charles
Ray Charles Robinson Jr. (1930-2004), widely known as Ray Charles, was a legendary American singer, songwriter, pianist, composer, and one of the best blind black piano players of all time. Despite being blind since childhood, Charles became one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, earning numerous awards and accolades throughout his career.
The legendary blind R&B and soul musician is best known for many iconic songs that blended genres and broke down racial barriers in the 1950s and 60s. Some of his most famous songs include:
- “I’ve Got a Woman” – Charles’ first major hit in 1955 that blended gospel and R&B
- “Georgia on My Mind” – Charles’ classic 1960 song that became Georgia’s official state song
- “Hit the Road Jack” – Charles’ upbeat 1961 song with call-and-response vocals
- “Unchain My Heart” – Charles’ soulful 1961 song that has been covered by many artists
- “I Can’t Stop Loving You” – Charles’ 1962 country-soul ballad that spent five weeks at #1 on the Billboard 100
2. Stevie Wonder
Stevland Hardaway Morris, better known as Stevie Wonder, is an American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Blind since shortly after birth, Wonder began his music career at a young age and went on to become one of the most successful and beloved musicians of all time.
Stevie Wonder is best known for classic songs from the 1960s through 1980s, including:
- “Superstition” – Wonder’s first #1 hit from 1972 with a distinctive clavichord-driven sound and lyrics about superstitious beliefs.
- “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” – A 1973 single from Wonder’s “Talking Book” album with a laid-back groove and romantic lyrics.
- “I Just Called to Say I Love You” – Wonder’s most commercially successful song, written for the 1984 film “The Woman in Red.” It won an Oscar and Golden Globe, and it topped charts in the US and UK.
- “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” – A 1970 soul/R&B song with a catchy hook and chorus. It’s one of Wonder’s most popular love songs.
- “Living for the City” – A gritty 1973 story of a young black man’s struggle to survive in inner-city life. It highlights injustice and inequality.
Related Reading: The Best Alternative Songs From the 90s (Top 10)
3. Art Tatum
Another great blind piano player is Arthur Tatum Jr. (1909-1956). Tatum was an American jazz pianist and virtuoso who is widely considered one of the greatest piano players of all time. Despite being blind from birth, his incredible skill and technical proficiency on the piano left a lasting impact on the world of jazz and influenced countless musicians who came after him.
As one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time, Art Tatum was known for his virtuosic improvisational skills and fast, intricate playing style. Some of his most famous songs that showcase his talents include:
- “Tiger Rag”: Tatum’s breakneck rendition of this Dixieland standard features rapid-fire arpeggios and chord progressions played at blistering tempos.
- “Willow Weep for Me”: Tatum transforms this 1932 pop standard into a beautiful jazz ballad with sweeping melodic lines and harmonically complex improvised solos.
- “Elegy”: This original composition showcases Tatum’s more lyrical side with a melodic theme and variations that unfold at a slower, more deliberate pace but are no less technically impressive.
4. George Shearing
Sir George Shearing (1919-2011) was a British jazz pianist and composer who became one of the most popular and influential jazz musicians of the 20th century. Shearing was blind from birth, but his incredible talent and musicality made him a sought-after performer and recording artist for many years.
The blind British jazz pianist is best known for popularizing a style known as “Shearing’s voicing,” which uses a distinctive block chord technique. Some of his most well-known songs that demonstrate this unique style include:
- “September in the Rain” (1949)
- “Lullaby of Birdland” (1952), perhaps his most famous composition that became a jazz standard
- “Conception” (1951), showing his bebop influences
- “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (1949), demonstrating his skill with ballads and the Great American Songbook
Shearing had a prolific career spanning over 60 years and recorded hundreds of albums. However, his blocked chord technique and skill with complex harmonies that still retained a lot of melody made songs like these instrumental classics.
5. Nobuyuki Tsujii
Nobuyuki Tsujii is a blind piano player from Japan who has been playing since the age of 2. He gained worldwide fame after winning the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2009. Tsujii was born blind and has since become known for his sensitive and expressive performances.
The Japanese pianist and composer is best known for his piano compositions that have been featured in anime shows and video games. Some of his most famous works include:
- “Elegy for the Victims of the Tsunami of March 11, 2011 in Japan”
- “Street Corner Symphony” used in the anime series “Natsume’s Book of Friends”
- “Vanitas” used in the “Pandora Hearts” anime series
- “Scarborough Fair” – his arrangement of the famous English folk ballad
Like what you’re reading so far? Don’t forget to also check out our list of the Top 20 Best Electric Guitar Players In The World!
6. Ronnie Milsap
Ronnie Milsap is a blind country piano player who has had a long and successful career in the music industry. The American musician was born with a congenital disorder that left him blind. Still, his talent and dedication to his craft have earned him numerous awards and accolades over the years.
Some of his most well-known songs include:
- “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” (1981): This ballad was Milsap’s fifth #1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The catchy tune and lyrics about lost love have made it one of Milsap’s most enduring songs.
- “Smoky Mountain Rain” (1980): This dramatic country-pop crossover song blends a moving tale of lost love with orchestral strings and a stirring vocal performance by Milsap. It was a major hit, reaching #5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
- “It Was Almost Like a Song” (1977): One of Milsap’s earliest hits was this tender ballad reflecting on a lost love. It showcased his vocal talents and piano skills and launched him to stardom, hitting #4 on the Country chart and #16 on the Billboard Hot 100.
7. Diane Schuur
Diane Schuur is an American jazz singer and pianist who has been blind since birth. Nevertheless, Schuur’s powerful voice and impressive piano skills have earned her critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base throughout her long and successful career.
Some of her most famous songs include:
- “The Promise” (1986), a love ballad that reached #25 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart
- “Timeless” (1987), the title track from her album that won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female
- “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (2004), a cover of the Stevie Wonder song on her album “Midnight”
- “On the Other Side of the World” (2008), the title track from her Latin-inspired album that blends jazz, pop, and world music styles
8. Marcus Roberts
Marcus Roberts is an American jazz pianist and composer who has been blind since the age of five. Roberts is known for his innovative and virtuosic playing style, as well as his dedication to preserving the history and legacy of jazz music.
His most famous songs include:
- “Deep in the Shed” from his 1992 album Alone with Three Giants
- “For the Love of Abbey” from his 1993 album Portraits in Blue
- “Nubian Queen” from his 1994 album The Truth Is Spoken Here
Roberts, who has been blind since age 5, is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists and interpreters of the music of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. His distinctive style incorporates elements of stride, blues, gospel, and bebop.
9. Lennie Tristano
Lennie Tristano (1919-1978) was a blind piano player who was also a composer and arranger known for his complex and innovative approach to jazz improvisation. Blind from childhood, the American pianist’s contributions to the world of jazz have been highly influential and helped shape the direction of the genre for decades.
The blind pianist is best known for pioneering an improvisational style known as “line improvisation” in the late 1940s and 1950s. Some of his best-known songs include:
- “Wow” (recorded in 1949), featuring a fast bebop melody and virtuosic solos
- “Intuition” (recorded in 1949), highlighting Tristano’s distinctive style of interweaving improvised lines
- “Turkish Mambo” (recorded in 1955), one of Tristano’s most famous tracks with a catchy mambo rhythm and theme
10. Tete Montoliu
Tete Montoliu was a renowned Catalan jazz pianist and composer who had been blind since birth. Born in 1933, Montoliu began studying piano at age 6 at the Institute for the Blind in Barcelona. Montoliu went on to perform and record with many jazz greats, including Chet Baker, Charles Mingus, and Archie Shepp.
The blind Catalan jazz pianist was known for songs such as:
“El meu avi” (“My Grandfather”), one of his most famous compositions featuring a blend of jazz and traditional Catalan folk influences.
“Recorda’m” (“Remember Me”) is a beautiful ballad showcasing Montoliu’s lyrical piano style.
“Swing 39”, an uptempo hard bop number highlighting Montoliu’s virtuosic technique and skill with improvisation.
“La vida” (“Life”) is another original composition reflecting Montoliu’s life philosophy and enjoyment of music.
Montoliu was a prolific artist who released over 20 albums in his career, combining jazz with Catalan traditions and demonstrating his mastery of piano across styles.
We hope you enjoyed this tour through 10 of the greatest blind piano players. Despite losing their sight, these incredible musicians developed a fantastic gift for playing piano that has brought joy to listeners around the world.
The next time you listen to a piano piece, remember the inspiring stories of these blind piano players and how they overcame enormous obstacles to share their gift of music with us all.