James Matthews

Once-Homeless Pianist to Perform at Carnegie Hall

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

James Matthews will play at Carnegie Hall in New York City after doing well in a piano competition. Part of his inspiration is the intervention of a former instructor when he was homeless.

Matthews graduated from Hardee High School in 2007 and later found himself homeless while attending Polk State College. Matthews was also taking private piano lessons with famed Florida Southern College professor Robert McDonald at the time.

Matthews spent many hours practicing in a piano studio at FSC. He said he would also sometimes secretly sleep in McDonald’s studio. Late one night, McDonald came to the studio to practice and found Matthews there.

“He had found me sleeping in his studio,” Matthews told WEAR TV.

After McDonald found out about Matthews situation, he made some calls. McDonald helped Matthews get into Chipola College in Mariana.

“And pretty much got me out of that situation,” said Matthews. “Found me another place to go to where I had a dorm and a roof over my head.”

Matthews is now a student at the University of West Florida.

Robert McDonald passed away last year. His wife, Ingrid, is just now hearing the story of her husband’s intervention on Matthews’ behalf.

“I have to say, that was Bob,” McDonald said.

She is also hearing other stories of her husband’s quiet kindness.

“And for me that is so interesting,” she said. “He passed away last September and since then I have heard more stories that I had no idea about.”

Robert McDonald once performed at Carnegie Hall. Now James Matthews is preparing to do the same.

“It’s a dream come true,” Matthews said. “In a million years I would never see myself going on that stage.”

Robert McDonald didn’t live to see Matthews get his chance to perform on a renowned stage. But Ingrid McDonald hopes that somehow he’ll be there in spirit.

“I hope so. I hope he knows of it in a way,” she said. “Because it touches me. I don’t want to cry. Touches me a lot to hear these stories.”

Matthews will perform at Carnegie Hall on April 20th.


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