The son of an African-American mother and an Argentinean father, blind singer Raul Midon is known for his passionate songs, optimistic outlook, and rich vocal range. He has been compared to Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Jose Feliciano, and Richie Havens. Midon has performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.
Midon was born in Embudo, New Mexico, a small town north of Santa Fe. He and his identical twin brother, Marco, were born six weeks prematurely and were blinded shortly after birth by spending time in an incubator without adequate eye protection from the oxygen-rich atmosphere inside it. Midon's father was an Argentinean-born dancer who left his home at 17 and danced throughout the United States before settling in New Mexico with Midon's mother, who was originally from New York City. Midon's mother died when he and Marco were only four years old. After her death, they were raised by their father and their maternal grandmother, and were taught a positive attitude toward their lives. Midon's father told Raquel Cepeda in People, "I realized that a positive attitude was the most important asset they could acquire. They embraced that."
Midon knew at a very early age that he was interested in music. He wrote on his website that when he was a child, "I'd be riding in a car and I'd listen to the rhythm of the turn signal. I heard music in everything, from a car horn to the crickets." Inspired by the rhythms of Argentinean folk music, and by his father's example, he began playing drums. He told Imani Dawson in Myrtle Beach Online, "Instead of watching TV, our idea of fun was beating conga drums for hours and hours."
He also listened to his father's collection of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis records, as well as the pop music of the time: Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon. These influences led him to explore jazz. He also began taking guitar lessons from a flamenco player. After this he moved on to classical and then jazz guitar. Midon wrote on his website, "The way I play today is an amalgam of those styles, mixed with my fascination with the great rock and blues guitarists like Eric Clapton and B.B. King." He added, "I'm constantly trying to integrate everything I know musically into the guitar. I'm trying to make it sound like an orchestra."
Midon and his brother both attended high school at exclusive Santa Fe Prep, where they both became interested in music and ham radio. However, Raul began leaning more heavily toward music, while Marco emphasized math, and later became a NASA engineer. They still talk regularly via ham radio.
After going to college at the University of Miami, which he chose for its prestigious jazz program, Midon worked for several years as a background vocalist for Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Ricky Martin, Julio Iglesias, and Jose Feliciano. He also recorded a Spanish-language album, Gracias a la vida. While in Miami, Midon also met his future wife, Kathleen; they were married in 1999.
Eventually, Midon decided that he had gone as far as he could go as a studio musician. He longed to perform his own songs. In March of 2002, Midon and his wife moved to New York City so he could try and make it on his own in a solo career. Instead of pushing demo tapes, Midon sought gigs at popular live venues. He told Dawson, "I was working on a way to have a presence solo and recreate the sound of a whole band alone. I needed folks to listen to me and watch me play."
This strategy paid off: Midon moved up to several high-profile gigs, including performances at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. He also wrote a song for the soundtrack of Spike Lee's film She Hate Me. He eventually came to the attention of producer Arif Mardin. Mardin told Dawson, "I was mesmerized when I heard him live," and characterized Midon as a "genius."
Midon's album State of Mind featured Midon's acoustic guitar playing and rich vocals, in tracks recalling the influences of soul, jazz, R&B, and Latin music. Dawson wrote that Midon's vocals resemble those of Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder; fittingly, Wonder played the harmonica on the song "Expressions of Love." On the Proudparenting.com website, Midon told an interviewer that playing with Wonder was "one of those life-altering moments—someone with this iconic status that you grew up hearing. I'll never forget it." Other guests on the album included vocalist Jason Mraz, Latin jazz flutist Dave Valentin, percussionist Sammy Figueroa, harmonica player Gregoire Maret, percussionist Cyro Baptista, and jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris.
A Musicremedy.com writer noted that the collection of 13 original songs "places on display his earnest, lyrical songwriting; full-bodied vocals steeped in soul; a singular syncopated, flamenco- and jazz-infused acoustic guitar style; a unique vocal trumpet improvisation; and hopeful disposition." A People reviewer wrote, "His remarkable voice … is an elastic instrument that boasts the warm, rich timbre of Wonder and Hathaway, a spine-tingling falsetto and an uncanny ability to mimic a trumpet." In Billboard, Gail Mitchell noted, "Few albums these days make you stop in your tracks. This one does." In U.S. News and World Report, Caroline Hsu noted that along with his stellar musicianship, Midon displays personal integrity as an artist, refusing to "crunch abs, cavort in videos, or otherwise bow to the Pop Music Machine."
Although the album received widespread critical acclaim, it did not immediately recruit a legion of fans. Midon was philosophical about this, telling Dawson, "I know there's a possibility that I might not be successful. I'm willing to take that risk."
On his website, Midon summed up his life mission: "Part of our mission, as artists, besides entertaining, is to say something positive, without preaching, to our audience, whether it numbers in the hundreds or millions." He told Rashod D. Ollison in the Baltimore Sun, "Me being blind, I was told I couldn't do this, I couldn't do that. In my life, I find a way to do what I want to do. Having a lot of people around that support that, the positive, there's nothing you can't do."
Gracias a la vida, RCA International, 1999.
Blind to Reality, self-produced, 2001.
State of Mind, Manhattan Records, 2005.
For the Record …
Born Raul Midon in Embudo, NM; son of Sandra and Jorge Midon (a dancer); twin brother of Marco (a NASA engineer); married Kathleen, 1999. Education: Attended University of Miami.
Worked as a background singer for other performers; embarked on solo career, 2002–.
Addresses: Record company—Manhattan Records, 150 5th Ave., New York, NY 10011. Website—Raul Midon Official Website: http://www.midon.com.
Billboard, January 8, 2005, p. 20; April 30, 2005, p. 42; June 11, 2005, p. 50.
People, June 13, 2005, p. 44; July 25, 2005, p. 101.
U.S. News and World Report, June 6, 2005, p. D16.
"Blind Musician Raul Midon Finds Success," Myrtle Beach Online, http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/mld/myrtlebeachonline/entertainment/12417262.htm (August 30, 2005).
"Midon's Debut Captures His Own State of Being," Baltimore Sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/bal-li.music18aug18,1,2907924.story?coll=bal-live-archive (August 30, 2005).
"Raul Midon," Musicremedy.com, http://www.musicremedy.com/articles/1587 (August 30, 2005).
Raul Midon Official Website, http://www.midon.com/ (August 30, 2005).
"Raul Midon," Proudparenting.com, http://www.proudparenting.com/page.cfm?sectionid=59&typeofsite=storydetail&ID=660&storyset=yes (August 30, 2005).
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