Usually when thinking about disabilities, most people assume that someone with a disability is limited in one way or another. Who would ever think that a blind person could still play an instrument? Or that someone who doesn’t have perfect hearing is still able to sing as if that disability doesn’t even exist? Not many would believe these things, but thanks to some extremely overcoming and high-achieving musicians, both of those are in fact a reality.
Here is a list of ten musicians that have been able to overcome their own disabilities and continue to produce and provide music. Despite some of these people having disabilities that would normally hinder someone’s ability to play or write music, they have all been able to continue to prosper and overcome, and continue to live out their dreams. As said by a Robert Hensel, “limitations only go so far.”
10. Ian Dury
Helping to bring the New Wave era to the forefront, Ian Dury and his band, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, became extremely well known in the late 1970s, a time of punk rock, drugs, and of course, sex. His hit song, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, describes the era entirely, but sadly not many know that the song was in fact written by Dury, despite the fact that so many bands, even in today’s world, cover it. However, at the age of seven, Dury was stricken by polio and suffered the long-term effects of the disease, which left it hard for him to walk and also shrunk his arm. To accommodate, Dury often used a stick as an aid to walk. However, Dury looked past his disorder and was able to breakthrough, along with his band, as a song writer, singer, and even an actor.
9. Brian Wilson
One of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson has been able to put a lot into his band, often providing backing vocals, keyboards, bass, and sometimes even lead vocals. Most importantly, Wilson is the primary songwriter for the band. In 1988, the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, many wouldn’t guess that Wilson is deaf. Though not entirely deaf, he hardly has any hearing in his right ear, many suspect that it’s because of his father hitting him in the head, or a bully who used to hit him. Wilson is also said to have schizo-affective disorder, bipolar type. In any case, Wilson has been able to put his disabilities aside and continues to play and tour with the band.
8. Teddy Pendergrass
Teddy Pendergrass hit the stage as an American soul and R&B singer, as well as songwriter. However, he first started his career as a drummer for The Cadillacs, a band that soon became known as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes after merging. During this merge, Pendergrass was invited to become the lead singer, and accepted. The band had plenty of hits, including Wake up Everybody, I Miss You, and The More I Get the More I Want. In 1982, Pendergrass was in an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down and also limited arm usage. After his accident, Pendergrass toured in a gospel musical and then soon retired.
7. Michael Bolton
Michael Bolton is most notably known for his soft rock ballads, as well as his past a heavy metal singer for Blackjack. However, many don’t know that Bolton is deaf in one ear. He first came to the forefront after co-writing How Am I Supposed to Live Without You? as well as for singing Gloria, a disco hit at the time. In the late 1980s, Bolton joined the easy listening genre and did a cover of Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay as well as Georgia on My Mind. He also got into composing songs for other artists, including Kiss, Patti LaBelle, Kenny G, and many others.
6. Tony Iommi
Known for being the sole constant band member of Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi has definitely been able to overcome his disability. As a guitarist for the band, you’d think that Iommi would need all of his fingers in order to play properly. However, at the age of 17 due to an industrial factory accident, Iommi lost the tips of his middle and ring finger on his right hand. To accommodate for this, Iommi took his disability in his own hands and created plastic covers to put over his fingers. To do this, he melted plastic soap bottles, molded them to his fingers, and then carved and shaped them to be suitable for playing guitar and covered them with leather. Today he wears custom made tips.
5. Curtis Mayfield
As a funk, R&B, and soul singer, Curtis Mayfield definitely had a lot of talent. Besides being a song writer and singer, he also played the drums, guitar, piano, bass, and even the saxophone. As a member of The Impressions and the composer to the Super Fly soundtrack, Mayfield’s career always seemed promising. In August 1990, a lighting rig fell on Mayfield during a sound check before a New York concert. The rod struck him and his third, fourth and fifth vertebrae were all broken, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Despite the fact that he was unable to play an instrument, Mayfield didn’t give up, and would lie on his back in order to catch enough breath to sing. As painful as it was, Mayfield still created another album before his death.
4. Rick Allen
“And more importantly, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, I wouldn’t be where I am now and I may not even have been here if it wasn’t for the accident.” – Rick Allen
At the age of five, Rick Allen seemed to know becoming a drummer was for him. Over the years Allen became even better at playing the drums, and soon tried out to become a drummer for Def Leppard, who at the time was in need of a drummer. In 1987, Allen became a member of the band, and in 1980 the band’s first album was released. However, in 1984, Allen was in a car accident. Due to a seatbelt injury, he lost his arm, which was at first reattached, but then had to be taken off due to infection. To accommodate for his missing arm, Allen got specially made drum kits, since he knew he could still keep a beat with just one hand.
3. Ludwig van Beethoven
“The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, ‘Thus far and no farther.’” – Ludwig van Beethoven Beethoven
Despite the fact that he lived centuries ago, Beethoven today still has a lasting impact on classical music. German in decent, Beethoven is the most well-known composer when examining the transition between the Classical era into the Romantic period. In the 1790s, Beethoven slowly began to lose his hearing, but continued to play, compose, and conduct. Eventually he became entirely deaf, yet he didn’t let his disability stop him. To continue to play, he used a rod that was attached to a piano soundboard that he’d bite and would vibrate so that his sound perception was increased. However, Beethoven last played publicly in 1811 when he failed to play Piano Concerto No. 5.
2. Ray Charles
“Learning to read music in Braille and play by ear helped me develop a damn good memory.” – Ray Charles
Ray Charles is most definitely a legend in the music industry. Not many can do what he did, which was to bring country music to an entirely new level by bringing a new soulful sound to it. He has been called a legend and genius b y Frank Sinatra, and has even appeared in hit movies, like The Blues Brothers. Charles plays the piano, sings, and acts, all while being blind. Though not born blind, his eyesight started to deteriorate around age five, and he was completely blind when he turned seven. Despite his disability, Charles was able to provide hit songs, most notably Georgia on My Mind and Hit the Road Jack.
1. Stevie Wonder
“Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.” – Stevie Wonder
As an American singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and record producer, Stevie Wonder definitely deserves a spot on the list. Despite the fact that he was born blind, Wonder has been able to inspire many and continues to provide great lyrics and music. He has been successful since the early 1960s, and today continues to play his music. Signed with Motown Records at 11, Wonder has been able to produce more than 30 top ten hits in the U.S. During his career, he has also received 22 Grammy Awards and even a Lifetime Achievement Award. Wonder has also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.