Most people spend their entire lives searching for their purpose. But at the early age of six, Tonee “Valentine” Carter already knew what he was meant to do in life.
When Tonee’s father, also a pianist, took him to a Ray Charles concert when he was six, the young boy knew that’s exactly what he wanted to do.
Ever since seeing that concert, Tonee has been obsessed with the piano.
“Once its in your heart, it’s in you and it ain’t going nowhere,” he said.
Today, the 66-year-old performs for an international audience almost every day at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He isn’t famous, but travelers who hear him play are mesmerized by his beautiful music.
One of those lucky people is Carlos Whittaker, a motivational speaker traveling home to Tennessee on Wednesday morning after his speaking engagement was canceled.
Carlos was “super bummed” that day, but when he heard someone playing the piano, he felt the need to walk by. That’s when he met Tonee.
Carlos, an author, podcaster, and Instagram influencer sat at the piano bar in Concourse A for an hour and a half, listening to Tonee play. He also took videos of the musician and shared them with his “InstaFamilia,” which includes over 200,000 followers.
Eventually, the two men began talking and sharing intimate details about their lives. When Tonee returned to his piano, Carlos had an idea—what if he asked his Instagram followers to give the musician the biggest tip he’s ever gotten?
Carlos did just that, and within 30 minutes, he had raised $10,000!
In a video he shared on Instagram, Carlos captured the moment he told Tonee that a bunch of strangers had raised thousands of dollars for him.
“I just lost it. I thought he was kidding, I just couldn’t believe it. That just doesn’t happen,” Tonee told CNN. “I didn’t know how to feel. This is the kind of the thing I do. I love giving and donating and helping people, but I never expected someone to do it for me.”
Before Carlos boarded his plane, he told his followers that they could continue tipping Tonee via Venmo and CashApp. As of Friday evening, Carlos said they had raised $61,000.
As it turns out, this money is much-needed. In 2008, while working as a pianist on a cruise ship, Tonee learned he had kidney disease. His doctor said his kidneys were functioning at just 10%.
The days of playing in bands and working on cruise ships ended for him. Now, he dedicates his evenings to his life-saving dialysis treatment.
Despite his health problems, Tonee remains positive.
“I have to do what I have to do to live. But I’m so happy, because when I’m not going through dialysis, I’m not going through heart problems, brain tumors or cancer. Maybe I don’t have working kidneys, but I get up and go to work everyday,” he said.
With the help of the piano, Tonee is constantly reminded that life is beautiful.
“When I’m playing, I feel like the happiest man in the world,” he said. “The happiest person in the world. I am happiest playing piano and watching people respond to that happiness with theirs.”
After getting an oil change for his car, Tonee said he will use the donated money to help others as well, like what Carlos did for him.
“There is only one way to say thank you, because words are inadequate. And that is to pay this forward.”
What a beautiful story of kindness and generosity! Please share this with your friends and family.