No one will ever confuse me with Willie Aames. I have never been chummy with Scott Baio or portrayed Bibleman. In fact, I am pretty inadequate when it comes to Bible knowledge. Take away Psalm 40’s inspiration for U2’s “40” and Linus’ citation of the Gospel of Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and I don’t have too many Biblical passages at the ready to quote. But in church this past weekend, the gospel was particularly interesting. It was the story of Jesus giving a blind man sight. The Pharisees suspected that the blind man or someone in his family had done something wrong for the man do have been given such a fate. Such a medically and humanely ignorant supposition is a kin to thinking people are not equals because the color of their skin or thinking shock therapy is a proper means of psychological help.
No one deserves a disability, and there is no real understanding why some of us have to endure them. That’s a theological issue that music writers for examiner.com probably aren't schooled in deconstructing. Nevertheless, in his homily after this gospel reading from John, our priest talked about blind Louisville musician Patrick Henry Hughes. You have most likely seen him on TV or read about him in the paper. His family was even featured on ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover. He was born without eyes, limited arm mobility, and never gained the ability to walk on his own. But he was born with an ability to play the piano, a talent he discovered at a very young age. In addition, he played the trumpet in the University of Louisville marching band. His outlook on the world is beyond positive. It’s something we all should strive toward owning. He's been given awards and received notoriety, but his words, actions, and talent have been inspiring to so many, giving much back to this community.
When I sit at a piano, I can play absolutely nothing, and I can see (with my contacts on), and my arms, while short, have full extension. I marvel at good musicians. How do they coordinate their hands on the keys? How do they play the right chords on a guitar? Yet, here is a man, who should be at a huge musical disadvantage, but plays classical and jazz with a confident verve. Hughes is not alone. Over the years, the world of popular music has seen quite a few blind musicians bring light into the world with their work.
Stevie Wonder has been an established artist since he was a teenager, singing, writing, and playing his own music for decades. With a body of work that includes Uptight (Everything's Alright), Sir Duke, and Stay Gold, he is forgiven for I Just Called to Say I Love You. And then there was Ray Charles, another blind star who could play a piano with a soul like few others. Adept at Rn'B, pop, and even country, Charles was touring until late in his life. He was always regarded as an artist who put on a memorable show. What he accomplished in his career seems nearly unachievable for most sighted musicians, but Charles overcame blindness and addictions to become iconic in the world of popular music.
While Jeff Healey and Robert Bradley may not have gained the status or following of Wonder and Charles, they both have had success. Healey got an early start with a hit covering John Hiatt’s Angel Eyes, but sadly left the world much too young. Bradley took a different path, forming a rock band later in life. Although he sang as a child at the Alabama School for the Blind, he was "discovered" while singing on the street in Detroit in the early 90s. Bradley’s voice is a powerful instrument and it stirs some comparisons to The Blind Boys of Alabama. While this gospel band got its start more than a half century ago with the 1948 release of their debut record, it has been in the 21st century when they have become known to the masses, winning six Grammy Awards in the past decade. The spirit elicited from their vocals breaks down any barrier, lack of sight included. Country star Ronnie Milsap is another blind musician who has enjoyed great success, especially in the 70s and 80s. And although Jose Feliciano made often be seen as a musical villain because he gave the world Feliz Navidad, he is a top rate guitar player.
And then there’s tenor Andrea Bocelli who is blessed with an angelic voice. Had he sang for the Pharisees two thousand years ago, chances are they would have asked what good this man or his family had done for him to be granted such a beautiful gift. During Lent, people often give up something for six weeks as a means of sacrifice. Imagine blindfolding yourself for those six weeks. Pretty unheard of, huh? Pretty unrealistic; I know. But most of us would become scared, frustrated, and dependent. We would probably be content just to get by. The world of music is lucky to have a handful of artists who felt getting by was not an option, artists who set the bar high and worked to make their God-given abilities even better. They have journeyed out of the darkness with their art – if only figuratively.
Music is a great unifier, but it also can be a great equalizer. Patrick Hughes has written poetry, a book, and even recorded a CD. The word “No” has no inherent meaning to him and these other notable musicians. Music is so often about feel that the best don’t even need to look at their keyboard or guitar when they play. That's not too hard to understand considering music is about soul not sight.