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Marcus Roberts: Soul Man

Marcus Roberts
Marcus Roberts
Marcus Roberts being awarded first place at the inaugural Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition; Nov. 19, 1987

What draws a blind man’s fingers to the keys of a piano? “Looking back, I think I understand it,” says Marcus Roberts, who fell in love with the instrument as a sightless child in Jacksonville, Fla. The chords emanating from strings and hammers drew him in. “The first time I heard it, I just couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.”

But that’s not the only reason for his attraction. “It’s kind of weird,” Roberts reflects, “but I think with this type of disability, there’s something stabilizing about the piano. It’s big. It doesn’t move anywhere. You can play it by yourself.” Plus, the very design of the keyboard is a boon for the blind. “The black notes are grouped in twos and threes,” he says. “So if you orient yourself by the black notes, you’re always going to know where you are.”

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