Blind, Black and Blues by Ronny Gonen - Illustrated by Ronny Gonen -
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Blind, Black and Blues


Artwork: Ronny Gonen

  • Joined Dec 2019
  • Published Books 2

Ronny Gonen

East Asian student and Business Management.
Dancing, playing violin, surfing, traveling the world and just enjoying life. 
I was growing up in a very musical family and music is an integral part of my life.
During the course we spoke about two wonderful singers that are both blind and black: Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. 
I was interested to find out if there are more blind and black singers and musicians and apparently there were more than I have imagined. 
It is such inspirational hearing about blind musicians overcoming their physical obstacles and making such a great music and strive in the music industry. 
This have caused people to ponder whether there is a special connection between music and blindness. Research shows that 57% of blind musicians have perfect pitch, compared to less than 20% of musicians who do see. 
Think about how much more determination, hard work, talent and passion they must acquire in order to become great musicians. Are these singers and musicians able to “see” things and feel music differently than normal people?
Maybe this is what made them popular at that time (some are popular even today)? 
If they weren’t blind, would they still make such a good music?  
After reading this Ebook, tell us what do you think – Is this is their “magic”?

Blind Willie McTell
“And I know no one can sing the blues Like Blind Willie McTell…” Bob Dylan
He was born in Thomson, Georgia. McTell was born blind in one eye and lost his remaining vision by late childhood. He attended schools for the blind in Georgia, New York and Michigan and showed proficiency in music from an early age, first playing the harmonica and accordion, learning to read and write music in Braille and turning to the six-string guitar in his early teens. His family background was rich in music; both of his parents and an uncle played the guitar. He was related to the blues-man and gospel pioneer Thomas A. Dorsey.
McTell was a Piedmont blues and ragtime singer and guitarist. He played with a fluid, syncopated fingerstyle guitar technique, common among many exponents of Piedmont blues. Unlike his contemporaries, he came to use twelve-string guitars exclusively. McTell was also an adept slide guitarist, unusual among ragtime bluesmen. His vocal style, a smooth and often laid-back tenor, differed greatly from many of the harsher voices of Delta bluesmen. McTell performed in various musical styles, including blues, ragtime, religious music and hokum
He became at first a street performer in several Georgia cities, including Atlanta and Augusta, and first recorded in 1927 for Victor Records. He never produced a major hit record, but he had a prolific recording career with different labels and under different names.
One of McTell’s most famous songs, “Statesboro Blues”, was frequently covered by the Allman Brothers Band. Many more covered his songs such a Bob Dylan who paid tribute to McTell on at least four occasions.




Blind Lemon Jefferson

Was born on September 24, 1893 and died on December 19, 1929 was an American blues and gospel singer-songwriter and musician. He was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s and has been called the “Father of the Texas Blues”.
Jefferson’s performances were distinctive because of his high-pitched voice and the originality of his guitar playing. His recordings sold well, but he was not a strong influence on younger blues singers of his generation. Later blues and rock and roll musicians, however, did attempt to imitate both his songs and his musical style.
Jefferson was born blind. He began playing the guitar in his early teens and soon after he began performing at picnics and parties. He became a street musician, playing in East Texas towns in front of barbershops and on street corners.
In the early 1910s, Jefferson began traveling frequently to Dallas, where he met and played with the blues musician Lead Belly. Jefferson was one of the earliest and most prominent figures in the blues movement developing in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas.
By 1917,  he met Aaron Thibeaux Walker, also known as T-Bone Walker. Jefferson taught Walker the basics of playing blues guitar in exchange for Walker’s occasional services as a guide.



Jefferson had an intricate and fast style of guitar playing and a particularly high-pitched voice. He was a founder of the Texas blues sound and an important influence on other blues singers and guitarists, including Lead Belly and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
His songs, “Matchbox Blues”, was recorded more than 30 years later by the Beatles, in a rockabilly version credited to Carl Perkins, who did not credit Jefferson on his 1955 recording. Fellow blues artist B.B. King credited Jefferson as one of his biggest musical influences. 
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selected Jefferson’s 1927 recording of “Matchbox Blues” as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll.


Blind Willie Johnson

Was an American gospel blues singer, guitarist and evangelist. He displayed a combination of powerful “chest voice” singing, slide guitar skills, and originality that has influenced later generations of musicians.
His life was poorly documented, but over time music historians such as Samuel Charters have uncovered more about Johnson and his five recording sessions.
Johnson was born on January 25, 1897, in Pendleton, Texas. The Johnson family attended church—most likely the Marlin Missionary Baptist Church—every Sunday, a practice which had a lasting impact on Johnson and fueled his desire to be ordained as a Baptist minister. When Johnson was five years old, his father gave him his first instrument—a cigar box guitar.
Johnson was not born blind, though he was impaired with the disability at an early age. It is uncertain how he lost his sight, but it is generally agreed by most biographers of Johnson that he was blinded by his stepmother when he was seven years old.
By the time Johnson began his recording career, he was a well-known evangelist with a “remarkable technique and a wide range of songs”, as noted by the blues historian Paul Oliver.
Johnson is considered one of the masters of blues, particularly of the gospel blues style.
In November 1962, Bob Dylan recorded a rendition of “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed”, retitled “In My Time of Dying”, for his self-titled debut album.
Rock bands and artists of the 1970s also covered Johnson’s songs, including Led Zeppelin, John Sebastian, and Eric Clapton.

Reverend Gary Davis

Also Blind Gary Davis was a blues and gospel singer who was also proficient on the banjo, guitar and harmonica. His fingerpicking guitar style influenced many other artists.
He influenced Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Wizz Jones, Jorma Kaukonen and more.
Davis was born in Laurens, South Carolina. He became blind as an infant.
He sang for the first time at Gray Court’s Baptist church in South Carolina.
He took to the guitar and assumed a unique multi-voice style produced solely with his thumb and index finger, playing gospel, ragtime, and blues tunes along with traditional and original tunes in four-part harmony.
In the mid-1920s, Davis migrated to Durham, North Carolina, a major center of black culture at the time. There he taught Blind Boy Fuller and collaborated with a number of other artists in the Piedmont blues scene.
The folk revival of the 1960s invigorated Davis’s career. He performed at the Newport Folk Festival. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his version of “Samson and Delilah”, also known as “If I Had My Way”, a song by Blind Willie Johnson, which Davis had popularized.

Art Tatum

Was born on October 13, 1909 and died on November 5, 1956 was an American jazz pianist.
Tatum grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where he began playing piano professionally and had his own radio program, rebroadcast nationwide, while still in his teens.
He left Toledo in 1932 and had residencies as a solo pianist at clubs in major urban centers including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Throughout his career, Tatum also played for long periods at night in after-hours venues – at which he was said to be more spontaneous and creative than in his regular paid performances.
Tatum is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists. His playing encompassed the styles of earlier greats, while adding harmonic and rhythmic imagination and complexity. Often playing passages at high velocity, he extended what was considered possible in jazz piano and established new ground in jazz.
he was completely blind in his left eye and had very limited vision in his right.
Tatum was a musical prodigy. At the age of three, he taught himself to play the audio while listening to the pieces of an automated piano perforated film. In a radiophone interview he gave, he denied that he learned the two parts of four-piece works by touching the pressed keys while the automatic piano was playing. He played works originally written as duets and was unaware that they were written for two musicians. In this way, he developed a particularly fast musical style with no compromise. Already as a child he was very sensitive to piano intonation and demanded that he often aim.
Many pianists greatly appreciate Tatum and his playing. Vladimir Horowitz expressed astonishment at his style. Samson Francois stated that “he was truly a genius on his way to composing by improvisation.” Baysey called him the eighth wonder of the world, Oscar Peterson said he was the greatest jazz player of all time, while Rebbe Hancock admitted no one could compare to him.



Ray Charles

Was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and composer who was often referred to as “The Genius”
Charles started to lose his sight at the age of four or five and was blind by the age of seven as a result of glaucoma.
Charles pioneered the soul music genre during the 1950s by combining blues, rhythm and blues, and gospel styles into the music he recorded for Atlantic. He contributed to the integration of country music, rhythm and blues, and pop music during the 1960s. 
His style and success in the genres of rhythm and blues and jazz had an influence on a number of highly successful artists, including, as Jon Pareles has noted, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, Billy Joel and more.




Stevie Wonder

An American singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. A prominent figure in popular music, he is one of the most successful songwriters and musicians in the history of music. Through his heavy use of electronic instruments and innovative sounds, Wonder became a pioneer and influence to musicians of various genres including pop, rhythm and blues, soul, funk and rock.
He was born six weeks early with retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disorder which was exacerbated when he received too much oxygen in an incubator, leading to blindness.
Wonder showed an early gift for music, first with a church choir in Detroit, Michigan, where he and his family had moved to when he was four years old, and later with a range of instruments, including the harmonica, piano and drums, all of which he taught himself before age 10.
Wonder was a child prodigy leading him to sign with Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11.
In 1963, the single “Fingertips” was a number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 when Wonder was aged 13, making him the youngest artist ever to top the chart. Wonder’s critical success was at its peak in the 1970s when he started his “classic period” in 1972 with the releases of Music of My Mind and Talking Book, with the latter featuring the number-one hit “Superstition”.
Wonder’s “classic period”, which is widely considered to have ended in 1977, was noted for his funky keyboard style, personal control of production, and series of songs integrated with one another to make a concept album.
In 1979, Wonder made use of the early music sampler Computer Music Melodian through his composition of the soundtrack album Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants”It was also his first digital recording, and one of the earliest popular albums to use the technology, which Wonder used for all subsequent recordings. Wonder’s 1970s albums are regarded as very influential; the Rolling Stone Record Guide (1983) wrote they “pioneered stylistic approaches that helped to determine the shape of pop music for the next decade”.
Wonder has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has won 25 Grammy Awards, making him one of the most awarded artists of all time. Wonder is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes. 
blind musicians have proven again and again how often they have some abnormal technical ability. For instance, they are much more likely to enjoy absolute “perfect” pitch than sighted musicians.
In 2004, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center reported that absolute pitch occurs in approximately 60% of blind musicians, versus only 10% in sighted musicians.
Studies shows that it is not only about the absolute pitch but also how they touch and feel instrument, and how they feel the beat is different from sight musicians.
It’s still not entirely clear how these highly developed auditory abilities translate into musical excellence — not even perfect pitch. Yet all these adaptations do point to an overall more powerful and dynamic auditory cortex, which can respond to and manipulate sounds to a much more impressive degree than sighted musicians.
After listening to all these amazing singers there is no doubt there is something special about them. But is it the blindness that makes them outstanding?
I believe blindness sharpens the sense of hearing and the feeling of beat/sound but does not guarantee musical excellence.
As Charles once famously said, “I don’t think I’m good because I’m blind, I think I’m good because I’m good.”
For my opinion he was right –  No matter what, it takes a lot more than a good ear to become a musical genius. 
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