Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

African Americans in the Arts Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision: Black History Month Continued…

The 2024 celebration of Black History Month in February highlights the theme of “African Americans in the Arts,” as described in an article in a recent issue of this Bulletin. African Americans who are blind and visually impaired have contributed significantly to many facets of the arts. Following are a few examples of current creative artists:

Lachi is an award-winning EDM (Electronic Dance Music) recording artist and entrepreneur as well as a GRAMMY Board Governor and community leader advocating for inclusion, accessibility, and “Disability Culture” in the music industry. She founded RAMPD, a global coalition that advances music professionals with disabilities. As Lachi explains, “’Young blind Black and Brown girls deserve role models, deserve to see themselves in the spotlight and embrace pride in their lived experience.’”

Shayy Winn gained national renown for singing “Rise Up” during her audition with American Idol. Since then, she has released four single recordings, performed at festivals internationally, and started her own “Focus on Me” skincare line.

Read more about Lachi and Shayy Winn and other disability rights leaders in the Forbes article featuring 7 Blind Women of Colour Blazing a Trail.

Ne’Vaeh, a visual artist who is also visually impaired, “hopes to change the world one painting at a time!” She was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, a “rare form of blindness,” and nystagmus, which is characterized by “uncontrolled eye movements.” Currently she is creating art for clients and selling her work on line. Read more, in her own words, on the Blind New World webpage featuring Art, Through my Eyes.

Alice Walker, one of the nation’s leading authors, lost vision in her right eye as a child when her brother accidentally shot her with a BB gun. “Embarrassed by the scar tissue, Walker spent more time alone writing poetry.” After having surgery to remove the scar tissue, the doctor advised that she might lose sight in both eyes. She later recalled that this compelled her to “’dash(ed) about the world madly…storing up images against the fading of the light.’” Subsequently, Walker wrote “The Color Purple,” which won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1983. Read more about Alice Walker and other renowned leaders in the Perkins School for the Blind piece on 8 Celebrities with Vision Loss.

Stevie Wonder, the renowned musician, became blind shortly after birth. A child prodigy, Wonder signed on with Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11, recording a Number One hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, at age 13, the youngest solo artist ever to top that chart. He went on to release several hit songs and albums, receiving 25 Grammy Awards. Wonder has been inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. He continues to remain “active in music and political causes.” Read more on the Wikipedia page for  Stevie Wonder.

Matthew Whitaker began his musical journey when he was three years old and received a keyboard as a gift from his grandfather. Born prematurely, he “has never been able to see,” though, according to his father, Moses Whitaker, “‘He hears everything as music.'” Whitaker began taking music lessons as a child and today he is a “versatile artist, starring, producing, and scoring the All-Arts Emmy-nominated documentary ‘”About Tomorrow’” and scoring the film “’Starkeisha.’” Whitaker has also had guest soloist appearances with a number of orchestras and symphonies across the United States. He has received three ASCAP Foundation Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Awards. Read more on the website for Matthew Whitaker.

Erika York, a Washington, DC-based visual artist, was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease, a progressive eye condition, while in elementary school. That accounts for her preference for using oversize canvases, bright colors, bold lines, stark contrast, and large figures. “’If somebody’s visually impaired, they can still see it,’” she explained. Her work centers around “the human experience… mothering, platonic and romantic intimacy, family and spirituality…” A 2012 graduate of Smith College, York’s experience is chronicled on the College’s website as “Smithies Create: Low Vision, High Art.”.

Each of these individuals has contributed to the arts in different ways. All of them, however, continue to pursue and share their gifts with audiences across the nation and world wide.