Matthew Whitaker is able to play many instruments. His fingers move effortlessly across the piano. His talent has taken him to many places around the world, including Spain, Belize, Paris and even Belize.
It’s also earned him accolades, and he’s been fortunate enough to record alongside some jazz greats.
It is remarkable, considering that he was three months premature and weighed only two pounds. He also had no sight.
His family was told by doctors that Matthew would never be able to walk or speak, and that there was a 50% chance of his survival. Matthew beat every one of those odds.
Stephanie Officer, Inside Digital Edition reporter, spoke to him about his journey and shared his story.
Matthew, aged 20, is from Hackensack. Although he is visually impaired, he can play the piano, drums organ, keyboards, keys, and percussion.
He was three years old when he learned the piano for the first time. As a pre-teen, he performed with his church’s band. Matthew claims that his talents led him to the Apollo stage where he opened for Stevie Wonder a few years later.
“I’ve met Stevie when I was about ten years old at the Apollo Theater,”He elaborated. “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 believes that, even though the world favors the visually impaired, he still tries 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, “From here, where do I go?” or something like that when I’m traveling somewhere.”
When he performs a tune, 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, here’s the next step.” And just little things to remember, you know, about little things that’s coming up in the song and stuff.
“I love to play, but that’s really all. That’s why I don’t really put much effort into it. Plus, I practice a lot with the band so we all just follow one another.”
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’ really is an album about the connections that I have made with other artists and their relationships with me. We had a great 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.
“It is amazing to come back and perform here, and also have a cd-release party. Since I was a little girl, I’ve been going to Harlem. When I was eight years old, I went to the Harlem School of the Arts.”
“I first went to the Apollo when I was nine years old. Since then I’ve been back and have been to the Harlem Stage at least three times. It’s truly incredible to be back here again.”
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.
“My motto is “follow your dreams.” Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you don’t have the ability to do something,” he said.