An airport piano player earned $60,000 in tips after a stranger shared videos of him on Instagram

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By Alaa Elassar, CNN

When Tonee “Valentine” Carter sits successful beforehand of a piano, his fingers instrumentality connected a beingness of their own, dancing crossed the keys arsenic helium smiles, closes his eyes, and sinks into a melody.

Carter, 66, isn’t famous, but helium does execute for an planetary assemblage astir each time astatine Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Travelers fortunate capable to perceive him often find themselves hypnotized by his music.

That’s what happened to Carlos Whittaker, a motivational talker who was traveling location to Tennessee connected Wednesday greeting aft a speaking engagement was canceled.

“I was ace bummed that greeting and had to reroute to Atlanta. As I was walking done the concourse, I heard idiosyncratic playing the piano, and I conscionable had to locomotion by them,” Whittaker, 46, told CNN. “There was Tonee, going down and going to municipality and I knew I conscionable had to enactment there.”

For an hr and a fractional Whittaker sat astatine the soft barroom successful Concourse A, listening to the euphony that seemed to effortlessly travel from Carter’s fingertips. The author, podcaster and Instagram influencer besides took videos of the instrumentalist and shared them with his “InstaFamilia,” which see much than 200,000 followers.

Eventually, the 2 men began talking, adjacent sharing intimate details astir their lives.

When Carter returned to his piano, Whittaker came up with an idea.

“Suddenly I was like, what would hap if I asked my Instagram followers if we could springiness him the biggest extremity he’s ever gotten,” helium said. “Within 30 minutes, we had raised $10,000.”

In a video he shared connected Instagram, Whittaker captured the infinitesimal helium told Carter that a clump of radical helium had ne'er met rapidly came unneurotic to rise thousands of dollars conscionable for him.

“I conscionable mislaid it. I thought helium was kidding, I conscionable couldn’t judge it. That conscionable doesn’t happen,” Carter told CNN. “I didn’t cognize however to feel. This is the benignant of the happening I do. I emotion giving and donating and helping people, but I ne'er expected idiosyncratic to bash it for me.”

Before Whittaker boarded his plane, helium told his followers they could proceed to extremity Carter connected Venmo and CashApp.

“By the clip I landed successful Nashville, it was $20,000. And by the clip I interviewed him for my podcast that night, it was $44,000. And arsenic of this conversation, it’s astatine $61,000,” Whittaker said connected Friday evening.

Despite wellness problems, he’s ‘the happiest antheral successful the world’

Carter was conscionable 6 years aged erstwhile his father, besides a pianist, took him to a Ray Charles concert.

“I was done. I knew precisely past that’s what I wanted to bash and I’ve been obsessed ever since,” said the musician, whose signifier sanction is Valentine. “Once its successful your heart, it’s successful you and it ain’t going nowhere.”

Carter said that nary substance what’s going connected successful the world, music reminds him that “life is good.”

“When I’m playing, I consciousness similar the happiest antheral successful the world,” helium added. “The happiest idiosyncratic successful the world. I americium happiest playing soft and watching radical respond to that happiness with theirs.”

But Carter hasn’t had the easiest life. In fact, he’s fortunate to beryllium alive.

In 2008, portion moving arsenic a pianist connected a cruise ship, Carter learned helium has kidney disease. His doc told him that his kidneys were functioning astatine conscionable 10%.

The diagnosis turned his beingness upside down. For decades earlier then, helium played successful bands and worked cruise ships. But present helium indispensable reserve his evenings for life-saving dialysis treatment.

“I person to bash what I person to bash to live. But I’m truthful happy, due to the fact that erstwhile I’m not going done dialysis, I’m not going done bosom problems, encephalon tumors oregon cancer. Maybe I don’t person moving kidneys, but I get up and spell to enactment everyday,” helium said.

“Yes, my beingness is simply a small inconvenient and yes, it isn’t what it utilized to be. No, I don’t person immoderate spot and yes, I’m anemic sometimes and a batch of my days aren’t good, but damn I’m here. I’m happy. Hell yeah, I’m the happiest idiosyncratic I know.”

He plans to wage it forward

On Wednesday Carter enactment connected a suit and headed to the airport, wherever he’s worked arsenic a pianist for the past 13 years. He didn’t expect thing bonzer to happen. He was conscionable excited to play euphony for strangers, similar always.

“I emotion moving here. It’s the champion occupation I’ve ever had. It’s a antithetic energy, radical going connected vacations oregon concern trips oregon going distant with their loved ones, they’re happy,” helium said. “And erstwhile radical are having a miserable day, they’ll locomotion past maine and things volition get a small brighter. They’ll commencement patting their feet and tapping their hands connected the array and deliberation ‘Alright, I tin bash this.'”

But past Whittaker, who Carter calls an “angel,” walked past and everything changed.

“It was a emblematic time and this feline walks up and introduces himself and says helium wants to interrogation maine for his podcast,” Carter said. “He asked maine what my communicative was and I said ‘I truly don’t person a story, I’m rather boring. All I bash is play piano.'”

But the 2 rapidly became friends, and wrong hours thousands of radical crossed the satellite knew Carter’s sanction and were adjacent giving him tips.

“It has had maine crying for days, not due to the fact that of the total, but due to the fact that of the idiosyncratic donations,” Carter said. “I looked done each the donations and saw truthful galore that were $0.50, $1, $2. My bosom palpated due to the fact that I knew they were giving maine what they had. People were giving retired of love.”

CNN has independently verified the magnitude raised and sent to Carter.

Whittaker has utilized his Instagram level to rise funds for others successful the past.

Earlier this month, helium and his followers raised $230,000 for Brooklyn To Alaska, a non-profit enactment that sends municipality teenagers connected a transformative escapade to Alaska.

“My online assemblage has turned into this happening wherever we each collectively determine to alteration someone’s beingness whenever we get a chance,” Whittaker said. “I cognize radical with 1 cardinal followers who can’t rise a fewer 1000 dollars, but we’re conscionable 200,000 and they conscionable springiness and they’re truthful excited astir it. It’s a blessing.”

The archetypal happening Carter plans to bash with the wealth is get an lipid alteration for his car, helium joked. But aft that helium says he’ll usage it to assistance radical the mode Whittaker has helped him.

“That $60,000 is not mine. It’s wealth that’s going to spell to others,” Carter said. “There is lone 1 mode to accidental convey you, due to the fact that words are inadequate. And that is to wage this forward.”

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