Get in tune with these talented music-makers who also experienced hearing loss.
Music and hearing are so closely intertwined that it can be difficult to imagine one without the other. But throughout history, many talented musicians with hearing loss harnessed their immense love of their craft as they continued to compose and perform incredible masterpieces despite their personal challenges. Here are a few notable music-makers with hearing loss who left their mark on the industry:
- Ludwig van Beethoven
- Christa Päffgen (stage name: Nico)
- Pete Townshend
- Barbra Streisand
Find out more about each of these famous musicians with hearing loss below.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Classical Composer and Pianist | 1770-1827
Of all the musicians with hearing loss, this German maestro is perhaps the most well-known. The exact cause of Beethoven’s hearing loss remains a mystery, but some theorists suggest lead poisoning, typhus, or possibly his habit of dunking his head in cold water to help him stay awake. His autopsy revealed a distended inner ear with lesions.
According to Beethoven’s biography, his hearing loss symptoms began during his late 20s when he heard buzzing and ringing and noticed that some sounds were becoming increasingly difficult to hear. Even as his hearing slowly deteriorated over time, Beethoven resolved to live for and through his art, and devote all his energy to music. Rather than relying on his hearing, he would use his mastery of skill to feel vibrations and imagine how the composition of instrumental and voice tones would sound together. The results of this remarkable talent are reflected in his powerfully moving orchestral symphonies that remain classics of today.
In the last decade of his life, Beethoven was almost completely deaf, but he continued to produce some of his best work over this period, including his Ninth Symphony, which is regarded by musicologists as one of the chief accomplishments in the history of Western music.
Rock Singer, Songwriter, Musician| 1938-1988
Christa Päffgen, known by her stage name Nico, recorded vocals for three songs on one of the most pivotal albums of the 20th century, The Velvet Underground & Nico (listed as number 13 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time). Nico experienced deafness in one ear as a result of a perforated eardrum, and her hearing loss was so severe that it would sometimes cause her to sing off-key, prompting ridicule from her bandmates.
Instead of becoming discouraged, Nico used it to her advantage. Her uncanny and haunting vocal style proved profoundly influential to subsequent musicians. Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, The Cure, Morrissey, and Björk all cited Nico as a formative influence on their own musical inclinations.
Nico went on to have a highly successful career as a solo artist as well. She collaborated with many of the most prominent musicians of the latter half of the century, including Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, and Jimmy Page, before her death in 1988.
Rock Musician, Singer, Songwriter | 1945-present
Several members of English rock giants, The Who, developed hearing loss later in their careers. Their reputation for playing at incredibly loud volumes is well-known, and in fact, their London performance in 1976 was officially listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Loudest Concert Ever.”
The exposure to high decibel levels at these concerts has perhaps affected guitarist and singer, Pete Townshend, most acutely. He attributes the onset of his hearing loss to a 1967 performance where drummer Keith Moon detonated his own drum set using gunpowder. The explosion was so intense and in such close proximity that Townshend’s hair was singed, and his hearing was permanently damaged. Over the years, Townshend learned how to deal with his partial hearing loss that included tinnitus and sought assistance from younger musicians and audio engineers to help him continue to record and produce music.
If you’re attending a live concert or music festival, be sure to review these concert hearing protection tips to help protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss.
Broadway, Pop, and Disco Singer and Songwriter | 1942-present
During a conversation with Barbara Walters in 1985, Barbra Streisand divulged that she has experienced tinnitus since the age of nine. The persistent high-pitched noise she heard as a result made her feel alienated from other children, and she tried to cope by wrapping scarfs tightly around her head.
Despite her challenges with hearing loss, Streisand went on to have an incredibly prolific career. She has been nominated for the Grammy Award an astonishing 44 times and won eight times. To this day, she is considered one of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of the 20th century.
These famous musicians with hearing loss are only a few of the many who contributed their talents to the music industry for everyone to enjoy. While they each experienced personal challenges with hearing loss, these musicians never stopped pursuing their passions and will be honored for their talent and ambition for decades to come.