Born three months premature, blind, autistic and having Savant Syndrome, it might have seemed that Tony DeBlois had all the odds stacked against him. But Tony was blessed with a mother who was determined to fight those odds for her son, a battle that has turned out to be most rewarding for them both.
Janice DeBlois made many trips with Tony to the hospital during his first years, and by the time he turned two he could still not sit up straight. To occupy him Janice bought a chord organ, sawed off the legs and put it next to Tony on the floor. The first two weeks the household was entertained with a cacophony of noise as Tony randomly hit the keys. Then a few notes of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” started to emerge and Janice showed him how to play the rest of the song. Six months later, Tony heard the theme from “Lawrence of Arabia” composed by Maurice Jarre and in no time he was playing it perfectly, starting a musical career that continues to leave people astounded.
When Tony was five years old he began taking piano lessons. Later that year he was diagnosed with autism. Autistic people are afflicted with developmental disabilities that affect their ability to relate to others, severely impairing their communication skills. The causes of autism are not fully understood and there is no cure. One in ten autistic people have a level of savant skills. In Tony’s case he is diagnosed as a prodigious savant because of his incredible level of musical skill. It is this conflicting mixture of ability and disability that has doctors perplexed.
Tony DeBlois started off studying at the Perkins School for the Blind, but when the level of his musical abilities became apparent, he was awarded a summer scholarship to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He was later admitted as a full time student, graduating in 1996. His speciality is jazz, but his repertoire of more than 8,000 songs includes a wide range of musical styles, from country to classical. He plays twenty musical instruments including piano, organ, guitar, harmonica, harpsichord, banjo, violin, trumpet, saxophone, ukulele, clarinet, flute and mandolin and he can sing in a number of languages. Tony has released many albums, been in a number of movies and made countless appearances on stage and television, something he is quite comfortable doing.
Neither Janice nor Tony’s doctor, who is involved in an ongoing study of people with savant syndrome, can say where his musical talent comes from. This talented musician has the answer though – Tony DeBlois says that for him, music comes from the heart and from the soul.