Pianist since age two, blind Marlborough musician still tickled by ivories
By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – When Marlborough resident Joy Wilson was born blind, her parents filled her toy box with every kind of plaything that made sound. She had a toy xylophone, a bunch of toy music boxes, and toy noisemakers galore. But her grandmother had a real piano, and her aunt and uncle (who lived in the apartment below them) had a real organ.
Wilson took to their keys with insatiable magnetism. She moved her fingers across the black and whites every chance she got. Her relatives would sing her tunes and she’d pick them right up. As a young toddler, she could already crank out “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Jingle Bells.” By the time she was two, her mother noticed she was “really good.”
Wilson’s love of music further blossomed in grade school when she attended Green Acres Camp in Waltham. She said she was “the first blind child” to attend — she taught herself to play guitar, and then showed other kids how to play it. More kids who were blind were introduced to the program, and she began leading a three-part harmony. She became a camp aide and then a music counselor, earning her first music-related paycheck at age 14.
As a child, Wilson used to go to a club with her father where coffee was a quarter and her cousin played music. She’d bring a big tape recorder and learn from him. Wilson also learned music in school. She attended Perkins School for the Blind, and has fond memories of one particular instructor who taught her about classical music and brought her records. She loved the recitals she was a part of in third and fourth grade.
Wilson’s natural ability emerged from a lineage of talent. Her father’s side was “musical,” and her mother danced and had “great rhythm.” Her cousin, she said, was the most influential to her musically. He introduced her to the organ and popular music and gave her lessons. She went on to get a job as an organist at a roller skating rink which she enjoyed for four years.
“I used to go into church and sit beside the church organist on the bench with him,” Wilson said, “That’s how organ-crazy I was. It’s been like a second love of my life.”
In her early 20s, Wilson formed a band with a good friend who played the drums. They enjoyed a six-week stint at a club in Framingham and went on the road to play at weddings and in bars and restaurants. They kept it going for about five years and still get together to play on occasion.
Wilson is appreciative of those who have helped her along the way. She’s thankful that her friends Bob and Doris Marcotte invited her to the annual Senior Connection event, co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and the Massachusetts Association of the Blind, where she performed for four years.
Finding gigs can be a hard business, though, Wilson said. Lately, most of her bookings come from various nursing homes where she periodically gets called to perform with her saxophonist friend, Neal Lipson, who is also blind.
Although she prefers restaurant venues for play, she does reap satisfaction from playing in nursing homes.
“I like to play,” Wilson said, “I play for people and make people happy – make these people remember their old times…and that’s what I feel God has given me as a gift.”
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