How 20-Year-Old Matthew Whitaker, Born Without Sight, Has Defied Odds to Become a Renowned Musician

Matthew, 20, is from Hackensack, New Jersey, and although he is blind, he plays the piano, drums, organ, keyboards, and percussion.

Matthew Whitaker can play several instruments. His fingers glide around the piano with fantastic ease. This talent has taken him all over the globe to places like Paris, Belize, and Spain.

It's also earned him accolades, and he's been fortunate enough to record alongside some jazz greats.

Quite remarkable considering he was born three months premature, weighing two pounds. He was also born without sight.

Doctors told his family he would never walk or speak and gave him a less than 50 percent chance of survival. And Matthew has beat every single one of those odds.

He spoke with Inside Digital Edition reporter Stephanie Officer to tell his story and give insight into his journey.

Matthew, 20, is from Hackensack, New Jersey, and although he is blind, he plays the piano, drums, organ, keyboards, and percussion.

By age three, he'd already taught himself the piano. As a pre-teen, he performed with his church's band. A few years later, Matthew says his talents took him to the Apollo stage, opening for Stevie Wonder.

"I've met Stevie when I was about ten years old at the Apollo Theater," he explained. "He was being inducted into the Hall of Fame. But yeah, I hope to do a collab with him one day because I only had a chance to talk to him briefly before they go on stage."

Matthew says that even though the world favors the sighted, he still does his best to find ways to interact.

"I don't let my disability stop me, you know?" he said. "So, for me, I use my cane to navigate around. I have people help me, my parents or I'll ask someone, like a friend of mine or something. Like, "Where do I go from here," or something like that when I'm traveling somewhere."

As for what goes through his mind when he performs a song, he says he simply plays.

"I mean, when I'm playing live, really, I just play. You know? One thing that just goes through my mind is like, "Okay, this is coming up next." And just little things to remember, you know, about little things that's coming up in the song and stuff.

"But really, I just love playing, you know? So, I don't really focus on that so much. Plus, since I rehearse with the band a lot, we just follow each other, really."

Not only have these talents taken Matthew all over the world, but they've allowed him to be able to record multiple albums. For his newest album, "Connections," he says he recorded it during the early days of the pandemic.

"'Connections' is really an album that really focuses on the connections that I have with other artists and their connections with me. And we just had a fun time in the studio."

Matthew was classically trained in Harlem, and he returned to the legendary New York City venue, Harlem Stage, where he received the organization's prestigious "Emerging Artist Award" in 2018.

The landmark venue, built in 1890, has welcomed performances by luminaries including Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

And it's where Matthew returned to have his CD release party. Which, he says, was a full-circle moment for him.

"To come back here and perform and have a cd release party, that's amazing. And I've been going the Harlem since I was little, you know? Like when I was about eight, I was going to the Harlem School of the Arts."

"When I was nine, I went to the Apollo. And ever since then, I've been back, and I've been to the Harlem Stage about three times now. So, again, to come back here is truly amazing."

And Matthew's story is not only impressive, but it has inspired others to follow their passions. And for those people, Matthew's message is simple.

"I always tell people, 'follow your dreams. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do something,'" he says.

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