6 Influential Musicians You Won’t See On Stage at The Grammys This Weekend


The Grammys are just around the corner, and the world is abuzz with speculation about which artists will win big.

But here’s who you won’t see performing on the music industry’s biggest night: anyone with a physical or intellectual disability. So we found six talented musicians with disabilities you should know about. Maybe next year one of these artists will grace the Grammy stage.

Sean Forbes

Despite growing up profoundly deaf due to spinal meningitis when he was a baby, Forbes has loved music as long as he can remember, according to his website. He grew up with musical parents who taught him to appreciate aspects of music he could enjoy — such as rhythm, beat and cadence of the lyrics — with the help of hearing aids.

Now Forbes, 32, is a groundbreaking hip-hop artist. Since 2012, he’s performed for more than 150,000 people in 60 cities, according to The Washington Post. His performances and videos feature simultaneous rapping and signing, bridging the gap between hearing and deaf audiences and bringing his deaf fans a musical experience they may not have had before.

Flame

Formed in 2003 in upstate New York, this monumental rock band has been performing together for more than a decade. They’ve toured the U.S. and the world, even performing at the Parthenon in Athens, according to ABC News. All of Flame’s 10 musicians live with intellectual or physical disabilities, including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, blindness and cognitive delays.

“When I was 3 years old, I was diagnosed with autism. And the doctor told my mom that I couldn’t speak,” Michelle King, a member of the band, said in the Following Flame documentary. Now, she’s the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist. Maria Nestle, Flame’s band manager, sums the group up best in that same documentary: “They’re awesome musicians who just happen to have disabilities.”

Sujeet Desai

When Desai, who has Down syndrome, was 9 years old, he learned by play the violin to improve his hand-eye coordination. Now 33, he’s a renowned musician who can play seven instruments, including the alto saxophone, clarinet and piano, The Buffalo News reported. He’s gone on to perform all over the world.

Currently living in Niagara Falls, New York, Desai continues to utilize musical performance as a way to overcome the limitations of his disability. He also enjoys playing at local community centers, senior centers and hospitals to bring happiness to people away from their families, according to his website.

Sean Gray

Gray, 32, is the lead singer in a punk band called Birth (Defects), and performing and experiencing others perform music is his passion. He also has cerebral palsy and uses a walker, music venues not accessible to people with disabilities hugely impact him. “To me, it’s no different than any other kind of oppression,” he said, according to The Village Voice.

Grey recently launched “Is This Venue Accessible?” — a site where people can share which venues are and are not accessible to those with disabilities. He’s also asking bands to refuse to play inaccessible venues in an attempt to pressure those locations to make necessary changes, The Village Voice reported.

Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (PKN)

PKN is a Finnish punk rock band comprised of four middle-aged men with intellectual disabilities. Formed in Helsinki in 2009, the band developed a cult following after they released their first demo, Kallioon, according to a press release. They garnered more popularity after The Punk Syndrome (trailer below), a documentary about them, was released in 2012.

Now, the band has the chance to perform in front of millions: PKN made it to the Finnish qualification round of the Eurovision Song Contest, The Mighty reported earlier. 180,000 viewers watch the televised music competition every year, according to its website.

Megan Washington

Washington has released three albums, won two ARIA awards (the Australian equivalent of the Grammys) and her music has been featured on Girls and Boardwalk Empire, according to NPR. The singer-songwriter has lived with a speech impediment since childhood. In the moving TEDTalk below, Washington reveals how her stutter motivated her to delve into singing and songwriting and how she expresses language through song. Then, she launches into a breathtaking performance.

“Singing for me is sweet relief,” she says in the video below. “It is the only time that I feel fluent.”

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