For musicians, it's all about being one with the music and giving their everything into making the perfect work of art. Until recently, musicians and fans did not realize how harmful it is for them to be exposed to loud music for prolonged periods.
With growing awareness, musicians are becoming more vigilant about ways and means to safeguard their hearing and have taken steps to caution their beloved fans and friends. Many of them have also taken steps to bring down the volume of music while performing live.
Noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus is not a recent phenomenon. A famous case in point being the maestro Beethoven himself. That being said, there have been several prominent musicians who have experienced hearing problems at some point in their lives.
Prolonged exposure to loud music while working in recording studios and performing live is known to have caused long-lasting auditory damage among several renowned musicians. Here is a list of 20 such famous musicians with hearing disabilities who have either fought through their condition or learned to cope with it.
In 1796 and at the young age of 26, the Maestro Beethoven developed a severe form of tinnitus which caused his hearing to deteriorate substantially. The tinnitus made his ears buzz and ring and made it excruciating for him to listen to high frequency sounds at first. His condition continued to aggravate over the years, until it became immensely difficult for him to communicate with friends and patrons. During the last decade of his life, he had become almost completely deaf and used hundreds of conversation books to pen down his thoughts. Despite his disability, Beethoven continued to compose. Apart from his other works, he also managed to compose 9 legendary symphonies between 1799-1824.
Gabriel Urbain Fauré
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was one of the most prominent composers of his time and is still fondly remembered for his unconventional and modernistic take on music. By the year 1911, Fauré was beginning to go deaf. He could not make sense of high and low notes which sounded distorted and off-key.
During this period, the tone and mood of his compositions changed as well and became more intense, melancholic, and dark. He retired in 1920, after being unable to cope with his profound deafness and ill health.
Despite being deaf in the right ear, John Alvin Ray went on to become one of the most prominent singers of his time. At the age of 13, Alvin lost audibility in his right ear because of an accident. At the age of 31, he had to undergo a surgery which made things worse and left him almost deaf. This was a crucial time for Ray, who by 1951 had become a well-known musician and was swiftly reaching the peak of his career. Nonetheless, with the help of hearing aids, he managed to continue singing until 1981.
This legendary singer-songwriter's hearing was affected during the recording of the album 'Weld' in 1991. As a result, Neil Young suffered from tinnitus which made it extremely difficult for him to continue making music and recording for the next one year.
Fortunately, he recovered soon and has since, been taking precautions to look after his hearing while working in the studio or performing live. Neil Young has been inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, once in 1995 as a solo artist; and the second time as a member of the Buffalo Springfield in 1997.
This iconic front man of the band 'Kiss', Paul Stanley has been deaf in the right ear since birth. Ever since he was a child, he has been protecting his left ear by wearing earplugs while listening to music or attending live concerts. He has been advocating the use of earplugs and other protective measures to help people safeguard their hearing.
He also works closely with House Research Institute on their initiative "It's How You Listen That Counts" that endeavors to help youngsters learn how to look after their hearing and not take it for granted.
Pete Townshend was the songwriter and guitarist of the 60s' band 'The Who'. His hearing was temporarily affected, when the band's drummer Keith Moon blew up his drum kit during, 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour' performance.
Thereafter, he experienced partial deafness and has been suffering from tinnitus ever since. Pete uses In-ear monitors and plugs, and ensures that the high frequency sounds are removed by his sound engineers.
Stephen Stills was first diagnosed with hearing loss at the young age of nine during a routine health examination at school. While performing live and recording at studios, his hearing was further aggravated. Having suffered from hearing problems as well, Neil Young advised Stephen Stills to try out behind-the-ear hearing aids named Oticon Dual, which has drastically improved his hearing and life.
The eight-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and actress has been suffering from tinnitus since childhood. This hearing condition has often affected her sense of balance and has been a cause of distress ever since she was a little girl. During an interview with Barbara Walters, Streisand had said that she longed for silence because of the constant ringing caused by tinnitus.
The Godfather of Heavy Metal is no stranger to hearing loss. Years of exposure to loud music has not spared Ozzy Osbourne either, who has been suffering from tinnitus and mild loss of hearing for a while now.
He encourages youngsters and musicians to wear hearing aids at concerts. He has starred in "Listen Smart" DVD by H.E.A.R., which is an educational video intended to spread awareness about hearing loss and simple ways to protect one's ears from damage.
Phil Collins has attributed the loss of hearing in his left ear to stress and overworking. He was diagnosed with infarction in the inner ear. This condition is usually accompanied with bouts of tinnitus, vertigo, nausea, and imbalance. Soon after this, Phil Collins took a much-needed break in order to recuperate and relax for a change.
Eric Clapton has been suffering from mild tinnitus for some time now. The three-time inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is known for his breathtaking guitar solos. Little did he realize back then, that playing on extremely amplified volumes would one day lead to hearing problems. These days, while at home he prefers listening to mellow music so as to protect and retain whatever remains of his hearing.
Brian Wilson - the vocalist and songwriter of the iconic band, The Beach Boys, has not been able to hear clearly from his right ear since he was 2 years old. The reason for this hearing impairment is not exactly clear. Despite this fact, Brian Wilson went on to create some of the most epic songs and albums of all time.
Anyone who has heard the 'Pet Sounds' album knows the greatness of this legendary artist. No wonder Brian Wilson is an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has been listed as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
Jeff Beck ranks 5th on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time and is undoubtedly one of the most influential guitarists of rock, jazz, and classical music. He, too, suffers from tinnitus and is known to have made the following statement when asked about his condition, "Well, you can say why is a guy scratching at a window with his nails such a horrible sound - I couldn't put up with that! This is worse!".
Dame Evelyn Glennie (DBE), the renowned virtuoso percussionist, began losing her hearing at the age of 8 and has been deaf since she was 12 years old. In spite of this disability, she has managed to make a name for herself in the world of music. She performs barefoot in order to feel the vibration of the percussion. In 1989, her performance in the 'Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion' by Bartók won her a Grammy Award for the Best Chamber Music Performance.
will.i.am, the widely recognized musician and founder of The Black Eyed Peas (band), revealed that he has been suffering from hearing problems because of tinnitus and has to endure constant ringing. His condition is the result of prolonged exposure to loud music while working at the studio and performing live. Though will.i.am's hearing condition developed over time; however, it was much later that he realized that the ringing noise in his ear was not normal. He finds respite in music because working helps him calm down and distracts him from his hearing condition.
Signmark a.k.a Marko, is a deaf rap artist who performs his rhymes using American sign language, hand forms, and facial expressions. In 2009, he became the first deaf musician to get an international record deal. The elements of bass, low frequencies, and beats help Signmark interpret the rhythm. Through his unique approach towards music, he endeavors to change the way people treat the deaf. He believes that the deaf must be treated as a linguistic minority who have their own culture, history, community, and way of life. They must not be treated as handicapped individuals.
American rapper, Foxy Brown suffered a severe and sudden episode of sensorineural hearing loss in December 2005, which forced her to put her career on hold for a whole year. Her hearing had deteriorated to such an extent that while working on songs, she required someone to tap beats on her shoulder. She eventually made a full recovery in June 2006 after undergoing surgery and has returned to the recording studio to recommence her work.
Chris Martin, the lead singer and songwriter of the band Coldplay, recently agreed to donate one of band's tracks towards tinnitus charity. Chris has been suffering from tinnitus and headaches for over a decade now. All the members of the band wear protective in-ear monitors while recording as well as performing live. He also ensured that his friends and family take similar precautions while being exposed to loud music, especially during concerts.
The "To Be Young" singer has been suffering from tinnitus and vertigo for over a decade now. In 2009, Ryan Adams quit the band Cardinals after he was diagnosed with Ménière's disease, an inner ear disorder. He also took a year off from the music industry in order to undergo treatment. The therapy also helped him cope with tinnitus. He has resumed his music career and is likely to come up with more amazing songs and albums.
In 2008, the Japanese Empress of Pop, Ayumi Hamasaki announced that she could no longer hear from her left ear. She has been suffering from gradual hearing loss since 2000, and was diagnosed with Ménière's disease in 2006. Nonetheless, Hamasaki has been diligently fulfilling the promise made to her fans about not giving up singing. Since then, she has gone onto release newer albums that have been received positively the world over!
This humbling list of musical geniuses who battled hearing disabilities, in itself is a reminder to all of us that we must look after our hearing before it is too late.