Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Disability Awareness Month

March is Disability Awareness Month, and music is one of the few fields where people with disabilities have become famous, while their disabilities all but disappear.  Consequently, there have been many famous musicians with disabilities.  Blindness is the most common affliction, but there have also been musicians with physical disabilities who attained fame. 

The Music Collection has books about music and disabilities, including books aimed at music teachers encountering students with disabilities, and biographies of some of the more famous musicians with disabilities..

Famous Blind Musicians:

Francesco Landini, 14th-Century organist blinded by smallpox

Blind Tom, one of the first famous blind musicians of the United States

Blind Lemon Jefferson, early Delta Blues singer

Blind Willie Johnson, early Delta Blues singer

Ray Charles, famous R&B singer/pianist

Stevie Wonder, famous R&B singer/pianist

Andrea Bocelli, popular classical crossover singer

Art Tatum, jazz pianist

George Shearing, jazz pianist

Tommy, by The Who, a rock opera about a blind and deaf pinball player

Musicians With Other Disabilities:

Itzhak Perlman, one of the top violinists of our time.  A native of Israel, because of a childhood case of polio, he needs crutches to get around.

Paul Wittgenstein was a famous pianist who lost his right hand in World War I.  Wittgenstein inspired, arranged or collaborated on piano music for one hand. Later injured pianists, such as Leon Fleisher, have been able to continue performing thanks to that repertoire.

Music, Disability, and Society by Alex Lubet ML 3820 .L823 2011


  1. Very interesting! Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson are excellent musicians. Huge influence on 60's and 70's rock, including the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Captain Beefheart, and the like. Definitely worth checking out. Blind Gary Davis (aka Reverend Gary Davis) is also quite good!

  2. Thanks Michael!

    I left out a few other blind musicians, too, like the Blind Boys of Alabama and Clarence Carter. There have been so many!

    Then there's Rick Allen of Def Leppard, who learned to play the drums with one hand after losing an arm in a car crash. He uses an adaptive drumset and sets an example for injured veterans with his Raven Drum Foundation.

  3. Perhaps you forgot to mention Jose Feliciano, Ronnie Milsap and the legally blind Filipino/American rapper for the Black Eyed Peas, apl.de.ap (Alan Pineda Lindo Jr.) Perhaps you left him out because he is not totally blind. I submit being legally blind is itself a problematic disability because the person is't quite sighted nor are they completely blind. It is a problem because they don't fit into ether world. From education to jobs and to socialization people don't know what to do about them and as a consequence adjusting to the world around them can and is often very difficult.

  4. This is meant for the library staff. Additional information about musicians with disabilities may be found on my site,"Musicians with Disabilities Top 25 Americans". The best way to access this site is to visit "Blind Sight 100 Most Important American Songs" and look at the side bar and then click on "Musicians with Disabilities Top 25 Americans". There are some interesting surprises.

  5. For the library staff. I have a new site that might be of interest, "Top 40 Blind and Visually Impaired American Musicians".


    I hope it can be of some use.