Beloved piano player Tonee ‘Valentine’ Carter earns $60,000 in tips after stranger posts video of Atlanta airport performance

ATLANTA – When Tonee “Valentine” Carter sits in front of a piano, his fingers take on a life of their own, dancing on the keys as he smiles, closes his eyes, and sinks into a tune.

Carter, 66, isn’t famous, but he performs for international audiences almost every day at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Visitors lucky enough to hear him often find themselves hypnotized by his music.

That’s what happened to Carlos Whittaker, a motivational speaker traveling home to Tennessee Wednesday morning after a talk was cancelled.

Whittaker, 46, told CNN: “I was so dizzy that morning I had to change my way to Atlanta. As I was walking through the waiting room, I heard someone playing the piano, and I just walked next to it. surname”. “Yes Tonee, come down and go to town and I know I just need to stay there.”

For an hour and a half, Whittaker sat at the piano bar in Hall A, listening to music that seemed to flow effortlessly from Carter’s fingertips. The author, podcaster, and Instagram influencer has also taken videos of the musician and shared them with his “InstaFamilia,” which includes more than 200,000 followers.

Eventually, the two started chatting, even sharing intimate details about their lives.

When Carter returned to his piano, Whittaker had an idea.

“Suddenly I thought, what if I asked my Instagram followers if we could give him the biggest tip he has ever received,” he said. “Within 30 minutes, we raised $10,000.”

In a video he shared on Instagram, Whittaker captured the moment he told Carter that a group of people he had never met quickly came together to raise thousands of dollars just for him.

“I just lost it. I thought he was joking, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t happen,” Carter told CNN. “I don’t know how to feel. This is what I do. I love giving, donating and helping people, but I never expected anyone to do it for me.”

Before Whittaker got on the plane, he told his followers that they could continue to tip Carter on Venmo and CashApp.

“By the time I landed in Nashville, it was $20,000. And by the time I interviewed him for my podcast that night, it was $44,000. And as of this conversation, it’s at a premium. $61,000,” Whittaker said Friday night.

Despite health problems, he is ‘happiest man in the world’

Carter was only 6 years old when his father, also a pianist, took him to a Ray Charles concert.

“I was done. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since,” said the musician, whose stage name is Valentine. “Once it’s in your heart, it’s in you and it’s not going anywhere.”

Carter says that no matter what’s going on in the world, music reminds him that “life is good.”

“When I compete, I feel like the happiest man in the world,” he added. “The happiest person in the world. I’m happiest when I play the piano and see people return that happiness to them.”

But Carter didn’t have the easiest life. In fact, he’s lucky to be alive.

In 2008, while working as a pianist on a cruise ship, Carter learned that he had kidney disease. The doctor told him that his kidneys were only working 10%.

The diagnosis turned his life upside down. For decades before that, he played in bands and worked on cruise ships. But now he must spend his evenings on life-saving dialysis treatment.

“I have to do what I have to do to live. But I’m so happy, because when I’m not on dialysis, I don’t have heart disease, brain tumor or cancer. Maybe I don’t have kidney work, but I have to. wake up and go to work every day,” he said.

“Yes, my life is a bit inconvenient and yeah, it’s not what it used to be. No, I’ve got no strength left and yes, sometimes I’m weak and a lot of days I’m not so good, but damn, I’m here here. I’m happy. Damn, I’m the happiest person I know.”

He intends to pay it forward

On Wednesday, Carter put on a suit and headed to the airport, where he has worked as a pianist for the past 13 years. He didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary to happen. He was just excited to play music for strangers, as always.

“I love working here. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. It’s a different energy, people go on vacation, on business or away with their loved ones, they’re happy. “, I said. “And when people are having a rough day, they’ll walk past me and things will get a little brighter. They’ll start clapping their feet and tapping their hands on the table and thinking ‘Okay, I can do this. this.'”

But then Whittaker, whom Carter called “an angel,” walked by and everything changed.

“It was a typical day and this guy walked up and introduced himself and said he wanted to interview me for his podcast,” Carter said. “He asked me what my story was and I said ‘I don’t really have a story, I’m pretty boring. All I do is play the piano.”

But the two quickly became friends, and within hours, thousands of people around the world knew Carter’s name and even gave him tips.

“I cried for days, not because of the total amount, but because of individual donations,” Carter said. “I went through all the donations and saw a lot of them being $0.50, $1, $2. My heart skipped a beat because I knew they were giving me what they had. Everyone. who is giving love.”

CNN independently verified the amount raised and sent it to Carter.

Whittaker has used his Instagram platform to raise funds for others in the past.

Earlier this month, he and his followers raised $230,000 for Brooklyn To Alaska, a nonprofit that takes urban teenagers on a transformative adventure to Alaska.

“My online community has turned into this, where we all decide to change someone’s life whenever we get the chance,” says Whittaker. “I know people with 1 million followers who can’t raise a few thousand dollars, but we only have 200,000 and they’re just giving and they’re excited about it. It’s a blessing.”

The first thing Carter plans to do with the money is change the oil on his car, he joked. But then he said he would use it to help people the way Whittaker helped him.

“That $60,000 isn’t mine. It’s money going to someone else,” Carter said. “There’s only one way to say thank you, because words aren’t enough. And that’s to pay for this.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. Copyright Registered. | Beloved piano player Tonee ‘Valentine’ Carter earns $60,000 in tips after stranger posts video of Atlanta airport performance

Huynh Nguyen

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