HACKENSACK, N.J. -- A magical ride continues for an inspirational teenage multi-instrumentalist from Hackensack.
Matthew Whitaker, 14, who played Newark's Symphony Hall last night, recently recorded his first album, "Take A Break," at the Universal Music Production Center in Hackensack.
"I had a ball," he wrote to friends and fans, urging them to stay tuned for the release.
It's no mean feat for Matthew, who was born 3 months premature — at 1 pound, 11 ounces — and blind.
Next month, he returns to the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem for a special holiday show. In February Matthew plays at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. A month later come two Florida performances.
"What an AWESOME year this has been!," Matthew wrote last week. "I had the opportunity to return to Vienne France and perform in the Jazz a' Vienne Festival as a member of three generations of Hammond B3 organists."
He also played a Future Legends Kids event in Tokyo.
Other highlights included a THRIVE documentary with popular Louisiana artist Jon Batiste -- a multi-instrumentalist himself.
"But the best thing was to be at my sister Allison's college graduation," Matthew wrote.
Matthew's folks were amazed when their youngest child taught himself to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on a miniature keyboard that his grandfather gave him when he was 3.
At 5, he was already studying classical music (Chopin and Bach are among his favorites). The next year it was drums, then bass and percussion.
The Apollo is a special place for Matthew, who performed “Killer Joe” there during his first children's amateur night there. He was also part of Stevie Wonder’s Legends Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the Apollo’s 75th anniversary show.
“I love sounds… I hear music everywhere!” Matthew once said. “A ‘Circle of Sounds’ with me in the middle!”
Artistic influences include Wonder, as well as Jimmy McGriff, Johnny Hammond Smith, Charles Earland and drummers Otis Brown III, Otis Brown Jr. and Roy Haynes.
Locally, you can see Matthew the third Sunday of most months with the SonShinre Youth choir services at his home New Hope Baptist Church in Hackensack.
“I am a musician who happens to be blind,” he once said. “I have been blessed with a God-given gift. I pray that I can continue to be a blessing and inspiration to others.”
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