And this, my friends, is why I won’t listen to an excuse about not practicing the piano/guitar/what-have-you. Because some people have a much more challenging time of it, and THEY do it anyway. Quit your complaining, already!
What follows is a list, with pictures, of some truly amazing armless or one armed musicians through the years.
I first learned about Henderson Brack on Deke Dickerson‘s website, which has been a tremendous source for this research. Deke had a picture up, and told us that Henderson only had one arm because the other was lost in the Civil War. Not to be deterred from fiddle-playing, Henderson Brack learned to play with the bow positioned between his knees. Deke gives credit for this photo to Andrew Brown, so I will too.
Ron Yule’s Sabine Bluegrass website has an article about Henderson Brack that was reprinted from a piece called “When the Fiddle was King: Early Country Music From the North and West Regions of Louisiana.” In it, we learn that Brack lost his arm to a Yankee rifle. After he recovered he returned home to New County and re-taught himself how to play the violin. If only there was video to show us, because what he invented was truly cool – a contraption that he’d put between his knees, and then hold the fiddle’s notes while moving it back and forth on the bow.
Bert Amend & the One-Armed Musicians
At the turn of the twentieth century, a shake mill worker by the name of Bert Amend lost an arm. He was passionate about music, and instead of letting this unfortunate incident hurt his resolve to be a musician, he set out to modify instruments so that he could play them. He invented a chord-fingering device for the piano for which he received a patent, and he linked himself with similarly afflicted musicians to form a full-on band. The instruments used were drums, piano, guitars, cellos, and violins.
At one point Amend’s group was billed as “The Greatest Novelty Musical Act in Vaudeville.” His group grew, and because of his innovative way to modify instruments, Amend is known as a success story in the world of music, especially in the realm of Knutsen instruments.
W.C. Williams One Arm One Man Band
Sadly, I can’t find a lot of information about W.C. Williams, who obviously played a lot of instruments and only had one arm. Deke’s website estimates that the postcard is from the 1910s or the 1920s, and I believe Deke.
The banjo is a notoriously hard instrument to play. Even if you’re not a fan of country or bluegrass music, you still have to admire the picking skill it takes to play that difficult instrument. So, imagine playing that instrument with only one hand. Would be tough, wouldn’t it? Emory was part of a tent show that passed through Floyd, Virginia sometime in the 1940s. Not only could Emory play with the aid of the nub of his left arm, but he could also play the banjo with his feet!
Ray Myers was an armless guitar player who played his instrument with is feet. Deke was kind enough to put an entire two booklets on Ray on his website, so mosey on over there for a better look. Ray was born with no arms, but that didn’t stop him one bit. He even became a licensed driver in the states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia without the help of a modified vehicle.
Little Richard Miller
Little Richard Miller was born in 1948 with no arms and no legs. He was exceptionally smart, skipping two grades and graduating high school at the tender age of sixteen. He went to to finish college, drive a car (a modified one), and play the ukulele, the guitar, and the piano. He had a successful music and ministry career.
San Diego Street Musician
This guy rocks. Simply put. If you have any information on him, leave it in the comments below, won’t you?
Angel Tavira Maldonado was born into music. His grandfather taught him how to compose music, and how to love it. He was showing some real promise when a firework exploded in his right hand. Encouraged by his uncle to keep at music, he did, becoming an accomplished violinist and composer.
Found on the doorstep of a Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam orphanage, Tad Lietz’s missing arm might have saved his life. One reporter speculated that it was the lack of the arm that kept Tad from being sold into slave labor. A Wisconsin couple, Jeff and Mary Lietz, spent a year trying to get Tad to Wisconsin to live with them. When they finally did, the child was in terrible shape. His eardrums had been eaten by bugs and had ruptured on the plane, he could not sit up, crawl, and he only weighed sixteen pounds at 3 years old. He also had intestinal worms and had a terrible liver disease. Tad was ineligible for health insurance, so his new parents took him to the Chicago Shriner’s Hospital where they fixed him up and gave him a prosthetic arm. Tad has become a well-adjusted kid, and he recently put on a cello concert to show the Shriners his appreciation.
23 year-old Liu Wei recently won the first season of China’s Got Talent. He plays the piano beautifully. With his toes. At ten years old Liu was a normal young man playing hide-and-seek with his friends. A terrible accident occurred, and he lost both of his arms. Many people would simply give up if that happened to them, but Liu Wei didn’t. He started teaching himself the piano at 18 years old, and went on to win the talent competition.
Like we would leave out Rick Allen. Allen joined the band Def Leppard at age 15. Def Leppard wasn’t a big name in 1978, but by 1979 the band opened for Sammy Hagar and played with AC/DC. In 1980 Def Leppard released their first album, and were well on their way to stardom. In 1984 Allen (21 years old) got into a car accident and lost his left arm. The doctors reattached it, but it got infected and they had to remove it. Allen was seriously depressed because he thought he wouldn’t be able to play music anymore, but Joe Elliott (front man) came to visit him and they devised a way to modify a drum set so that Allen could still play. The band still tours today.
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