Local celebrity Tony Kidonakis and musical savant Tony DeBlois and their pianos will be facing off later this month for a fundraiser benefiting Special Connections of Grundy County.
Tony DeBlois of Randolph, Mass., is a 38-year-old blind and autistic man who has Savant Syndrome, which is a “rare condition” in which someone who has an emotional disorder or subnormal intelligence has an extraordinary gift. Savants have been known for their math, music, art and mechanical abilities.
DeBlois' extraordinary gift is in music. He can play 23 instruments and can sing in 11 languages, he said, and he has 8,000 songs in his repertoire. His dueling piano performance with Kidonakis will be his first one.
"I'm excited," said DeBlois. "I've been doing 'That Sunday That Summer' by Nat King Cole. It was a request from last year. I just learned that and they're going to love that."
Jennifer Price, president of Special Connections, learned of DeBlois' story when some family members told her to watch the TV movie, “Journey of the Heart,” with Cybill Shepard, which was being featured on Lifetime.
The movie was about DeBlois and his mother, Janice's journey.
"We watched it and I had to learn more," said Price.
DeBlois was Janice’s ninth pregnancy, but the first baby that survived. He was born blind and was diagnosed with autism at the age of 5. His only sibling, his brother, Ray, was the eleventh pregnancy and has Asperger’s Syndrome, Klinefelter’s Syndrome and is paraplegic after a 42-foot fall from the Appalachian Trail.
Price did some online research about DeBlois and decided to call and find out what it would cost to have him perform in Morris. Expecting to get a management company, Price called and reached Janice, who does all the marketing and managing for her son.
"She's such an advocate for her son. To be talking to her on the phone was such a big deal to me," she said. Price has a son named Jett who was 16 weeks premature. He had a brain hemorrhage that caused brain damage and his cerebral palsy. Because he was premature, his vision and hearing are very low.
As a result of Price's research, DeBlois was booked to perform in Morris and raised about $5,000 in one show last year for Special Connections. This year he is coming back for two shows.
Special Connections of Grundy County is an organization with the goal of providing information and resources, as well as social, recreational and leisure opportunities for the developmentally disabled community, from children to adults.
"It's really a life-changing event. It's something that is really exciting to witness," said Price. It's so important to us as Special Connections to embrace, encourage and empower our special-needs community. To see how gifted he is, is such a great lesson to give the community just to watch him."
The first show is "The Dueling Tonys" featuring DeBlois and Morris native Kidonakis at Chapin's North, inside the Quality Inn in Morris. The show is Saturday, Jan. 19. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for 12 years and younger, and a limited amount are available. Doors open at 6 p.m.; the concert is from 7 to 9 p.m.
Kidonakis has performed dueling piano shows for Chicago's "Howl at the Moon" and on Norwegian Cruise Lines. He has degrees in music from Northern Illinois University, Northwestern University and VanderCook College of Music, where he is an assistant professor of saxophone and jazz studies.
Sunday, Jan. 20, DeBlois will return to Immaculate Conception Church for a solo show from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.
Tickets are available online at specialconnections.org, or at the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce, Standard Bank in Morris, The Turf Team in Morris or by calling (815) 545-3397.
Sponsorship opportunities are also available. Event sponsors' names will be posted on a large poster at both concerts for $100. To sign up to sponsor visit specialconnections.org as well.
Julie Applegate of Morris attended last year's concert and is hoping to attend again this year.
"I love piano music, but to see someone with such obstacles in his life perform like he did is amazing," she said.
"That evening I went to the concert was the biggest inspiration of the year for me."
At last year's show, DeBlois took requests for a portion of the show and is able to mimic the style of all types of musicians from both then and now. Price said he did music from Elvis to Katy Perry to the Phantom of the Opera.
WITNESSING A GIFT
The day after last year's show, the Price family threw DeBlois a birthday party. After meeting DeBlois the night before, Kidonakis attended to celebrate his new friend's birthday.
With their love for music, the two hit it off and together they started jamming on Price's piano at the party.
"It was so much fun we said they had to do a show together next year," said Price. "It was just too awesome not to share with everyone."
From there the idea of "The Dueling Tonys" came to be.
"The feeling I had when I met him last year was like a breath of fresh air," said Kidonakis. "He reminded me of why I started playing music, why I decided to teach music, and why we do this. He lifts everyone's spirits with his gift and I like to do the same thing. He reminded me why I do this and I can't thank him enough for that."
Both musicians play multiple instruments and Kidonakis said he hopes to play more than just piano at their show.
"I'm very excited to see what kind of music we'll make together," said Kidonakis.
The opportunities DeBlois is offering to Morris is more than just getting to witness a savant or enjoy a night full of beautiful music, he's showing the community how much the special-needs community has to offer.
"What is more meaningful to us is that people who come will witness a gift by someone people normally wouldn't think can do the kinds of things Tony does," said Price.
"Their abilities are so much greater than people often give them credit for," she continued.
DeBlois said he will be singing Frank Sinatra's "My Way" at the request of Price, as well as whatever else he is asked for at the shows. But his favorite song to perform is "Unchained Melody."
"'Unchained Melody' is my mom's favorite request," he said.
"The Dueling Tonys" featuring Tony DeBlois and Tony Kidonakis
7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19
Chapin's North inside the Quality Inn, 200 Gore Road in Morris.
Tickets are limited and available for $25. Kids 12 and under are $15.
Tony DeBlois Show
4:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20
Immaculate Conception Church, 516 E. Jackson St. in Morris.
Tickets $10 in advance, $15 at door. Kids 12 and under are free.
Tickets available at Grundy Chamber of Commerce, 909 Liberty St. in Morris; Standard Bank, 1111 W. U.S. 6 in Morris; The Turf Team, 4620 W. U.S. 6 in Morris; or online at specialconnections.org or by calling (815) 545-3397. Sponsorship opportunities are also available online.