MORRIS – He sings in 11 languages, plays 23 instruments and knows more than 8,000 songs.
Tony DeBlois is not the average person.
DeBlois is a blind, autistic man with savant syndrome, a condition in which someone with an emotional disorder or subnormal intelligence has an extraordinary gift. Savants have been known for their math, music, art and mechanical abilities.
People will have the chance to watch DeBlois play piano next month at two benefit concerts in Morris and Minooka.
“We had him come out for the first concert almost three years ago and it was a life-changing moment for so many people,” said Jennifer Price, president of Special Connections in Grundy County and director of Trinity Services of North Central Illinois. “I had people coming up to me for over a year just saying how amazing it was.”
DeBlois will perform a solo piano show Jan. 19 and a duet show with local musician Tony Kidonakis on Jan. 18. This will be the third year that DeBlois – who performs internationally – has come to the area.
The weekend has proved to be one of the biggest events – in terms of fundraising and awareness – of the year for Special Connections.
All proceeds from the shows will benefit Special Connections and Trinity Services Inc., two organizations that help those with special needs find employment, compete in sporting events and participate in social events.
“It’s just magical to watch him do what he does,” Price said. “He is blind and he is autistic and has special needs, but you forget about all of that when he starts playing because he’s so amazing.”
DeBlois said one of the reasons he looks forward to coming back to Morris every year is because of the relationships he and his mother, Janice, have made with Price, her family and Kidonakis.
DeBlois tours internationally, but the “Dueling Tonys” show is rare because it is one of the only duet shows on his touring schedule.
“I love it. I like it when we do different songs and Tony K. does a joke,” DeBlois said. “Tony K. and I come up with good jokes along the way.”
Price learned about DeBlois’ extraordinary talent after watching a Lifetime movie made about the DeBlois family. Price, who has a child with special needs herself, was so moved by the family’s story that she wanted to bring DeBlois to Morris.
“I found Tony’s website, called his media contact number and Janice answered,” Price said.
When DeBlois and Kidonakis performed in Morris last year, more than 600 people came to watch. This year, Price said she found a larger venue for the “Dueling Tonys” show on Saturday because it was so popular last year.
This year’s show is already half sold out, Price said.
“What this shows people is that when you have somebody with special needs and you give them the opportunity to grow and learn, the sky is the limit,” Price said. “Tony DeBlois is a great example of that.”
DeBlois said audience members should come with their requests ready as each show will include a request portion. He also will be doing impressions of famous musicians including Ray Charles – his favorite – Louis Armstrong and more.
DeBlois said he delivers the same message at the end of all of his shows
“It’s OK to be different. Believe in yourself. Always have high hopes. Don’t give up on your dreams,” he said. “The two most important words are ‘thank you.’ And the three ‘p’s are practice, practice, practice.”
See Tony perform
Saturday Jan. 18 – See the "Dueling Tonys" from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Chapins East Banquets and Catering, 502 Twin Rail Drive in Minooka. Cost is $25 for adults and $15 for 12 and under.
Sunday Jan. 19 – Come to "An Evening with Tony DeBlois" from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Church, 516 E. Jackson in Morris. Cost is $10 in advance, $15 at the door and children 12 and younger are free.
Local businesses looking to sponsor the event can visit www.specialconnections.org