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Matthew Whitaker: Teen Talent, Musical Prodigy

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By Nichole Richards

      POMPANO BEACH, FL – If there is one positive takeaway from the last two weeks it would the undeniable power of youth voice. The tragic shooting at Stoneman Douglas has forced the world to acknowledge it. It would be difficult not to feel convicted by the courage and clarity from these teenagers as they speak truth to power and demand long overdue change. Despite the different serious debates and implications (namely racial) one can justifiable make, one thing is for certain: children can be aweinspiring.

1Matthew-whitker-fpOn February 24th, one such inspirational youth graced the stage at Pompano Beach’s Historic Ali Cultural Arts Center, emphasizing that greatness can come at any age. For one night only, Matthew Whitaker, the world-renowned teen prodigy from Hackensack, New Jersey, gave a spectacular jazz performance. His second time at The Ali,  Matthew is a highly talented, critically acclaimed pianist, percussionist, organist, who has travelled the world performing in Europe, Asia, Africa, and across the United States. He has been profiled on Ellen, The Today Show, and CBS Sunday morning and received high accolades from the jazz world. At only sixteen years old, Matthew has accomplished what typically takes a lifetime…and he has achieved this level of success despite a surprising disability: he is blind.

Matthew has gone beyond not allowing his disability to hold him back; he dominates it. Blind since birth, he first showed interest in music when he was three years old.

“I taught myself Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” He laughs. As a toddler, he had played the song by ear.

Although the only musician in the family, Matthew comes from a family connected by music.

“I can’t play, but I know what sounds good.” Said his father, Moses Whitaker, “My dad, Matthew’s grandfather, had a large collection of music.”

“He still does,” added Matthew, “I liked listening to his music and I guess that influenced me.”

It was a profound influence as Matthew is a genius on the keys. His impressive performance spanned several recognizable tunes among selections from his first album, Outta the Box, which includes pieces of his own written work. His joy on the stage is palpable and his expertise undeniable. Accompanied by Bill Muter on guitar, Christian Davis on bass, JD Anderson on drums, and Drew Tucker on vibraphone, Matthew demonstrated a command of the stage despite being the youngest. He led the band as if they had been playing together for years. It had only been four hours.

“He makes it easy,” joked Bill Muter, guitarist.

Despite his success, awards, and accolades, Matthew remains humble and respectful. He even seems nonchalant about his prodigy-status, in that “uncaring caring way” only teenagers understand.

“It feels good [to be called a prodigy],” Matthew laughed, “I am proud of it.”

It is clear Matthew is less concerned about his superstardom and concentrating on his love affair with music and creating. When asked which musician/s he would like to work with, his stipulations are clear and simple.

“That’s a hard question.” He replied, “But any musician, really. A real musician who loves to play.” It is a revolutionary response in this era of “mumble rap” and autotune.

Just one glance at Matthew’s schedule on his website reveals a very busy year for the young prodigy. Concerts overseas in Indonesia, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany as well as in Atlanta and New York pack his calendar. You can find him playing at most jazz festivals and concerts around the world.

“Germany is my favorite so far,” he confessed, “But I am really excited to play in Indonesia. I haven’t been there yet.”

To keep up to date with Matthew, visit his website at www.matthewwhitaker.net

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