Kirk was born 1936. He lost his sight at the age of two. He was educated at the Ohio State School for the Blind. It was there that he learned music and started playing saxophone and clarinet in the school’s band. By the time he was 16, he was already performing professionally with his own group in the local clubs. He recorded his first album, Triple Threat, in 1956 at twenty. After touring with Charlie Mingus in 1961 and performing solo in Germany, he formed his own band, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and The Vibration Society.
Soon after, this blind musician became a jazz legend. During his career, when someone asked if his blindness was a handicap to his career, he usually replied that he was just a musician who can’t see too well. Kirk eventually learned to play a whopping 40 musical instruments. He often reconfigured them so that he could play more than one simultaneously, which he became known for in the music industry.
His musical repertoire included gospel, jazz, blues, and top hits. He plays bagpipes on Slightly Latin, released by Limelight in 1966; Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata on Atlantic, 1970; and Prepare Thyself To Deal With a Miracle, Atlantic, 1973. He often played bagpipe selections at live performances. His mastery of a technique called circular breathing allowed him to play without pausing for breath. This was a boon to him when he used jazz phrasing on the bagpipe. Listen to his “Bagpipe Medley” on Rhapsody for free.
Undaunted by a stroke in 1975, he continued to play several instruments. He performed and recorded until his death in 1977. Fans and colleagues keep his music alive. They continue to spread the Bright Moments (a much-loved original composition) that he gave the world through the bagpipe and other musical instruments.