Atlanta airport pianist gifted $60K in tips after going viral

Tonee "Valentine" Carter dazzled traveling author Carlos Whittaker, who watched the pianist play late last month.

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The Atlanta, Georgia airport pianist who went viral after an Instagram influencer encouraged his followers to send the man tips subsequently received donations totaling over $60,000. 

Tonee “Valentine” Carter was performing in a piano bar on July 21 in Concourse A at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta when he met motivational speaker and author Carlos Whittaker, who filmed the musician’s skillful display. 

Atlanta musician Tonee “Valentine” Carter was performing in a piano bar in Concourse A of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport last month when an encounter with a motivational speaker and author changed his life. (Instagram)

After a brief conversation, Whittaker called out to his more than 220,000 Instagram followers to ask them to donate to Carter. The video of their interaction then went viral.

The feel-good story was first reported last Tuesday by Good Morning America. Whittaker, 47, was headed back home to Nashville, Tennessee when he met Carter, who was sat down to listen. 

“I used to be a musician,” Whittaker said. “I was the opening band for a bunch of bands, and nobody ever paid attention to me. So, when I saw that nobody was really listening to him, my heart was like, ‘Ah, I get it.’ I just wanted to let him know that I was listening to him — and that somebody sees him.”

Carter said he loves music and playing for audiences of travelers.

“I love doing jazz,” he maintained. “I love doing pop, wop, soul music, classical — I do it all. If you ask me for something from the ’30s or ’40s, I got you. If you ask me for some gospel music, I got you. If you ask me to shake some booty music, I got you.”

Whittaker said he initially just hoped to raise about $2,500 from his followers for Carter, noting that he had raised money for various causes and people in the past. 

Within 30 minutes, more than $10,000 had come pouring in. The number continued to grow. 

Whittaker told Carter that he had raised $10,000, much to the musician’s surprise. By the time Whittaker got off his flight back home in Nashville, the number had ballooned — first to $25,000, then to $44,000. By the time all was said and done, Whittaker had received more than $61,000 in donations for the 66-year-old piano player. 

A graduate of Tennessee State University with a degree in music, Carter performed in nightclubs and later worked on cruise ships for 11 years. In 2008, he learned that he had kidney disease and would no longer be able to work on the ships. He still undergoes regular dialysis. 

Carter told Good Morning America he intends to make donations to the American Kidney Foundation and plans to work with an accountant to grow the money. He said he hopes to be able to help others the way he has been blessed. 

“I’m going to be helping people for years to come,” he said. “God made me a steward of that money, and I ain’t letting him down.”

Both Carter and Whittaker say they have remained in touch since their chance encounter. 

“We’re not friends,” the elder said of their relationship. “We’re family now.” 

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