An airport pianist earned $60k in tips after a stranger posted his playing to Instagram

28 July 2021, 09:14 | Updated: 28 July 2021, 16:41

An airport pianist earned $60k in tips after a stranger posted his playing to Instagram
An airport pianist earned $60k in tips after a stranger posted his playing to Instagram. Picture: Carlos Whittaker/Instagram

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

A story of the combined power of social media and music, and the heartwarming generosity of strangers.

A bunch of strangers gave an airport pianist a $60,000 tip – and our cockles are well and truly warmed.

Tonee ‘Valentine’ Carter, 66, performs nearly every day in the waiting room of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

And while stuck between flights, podcaster and influencer Carlos Whittaker, who has a sizeable Instagram following, stopped by to listen and started filming him for his social media.

Zooming in on the pianist’s tips jar, Whittaker writes, “Hmmmm”. He has an idea, and decides to approach the pianist, telling him: “You’re killing it. You got Venmo?”

Carter replies: “No, I have Cash App.”

OK, Whittaker says. He asks his online following: “Let’s bless him? Everything I get in my Cash App during the next 40 minutes I’m gonna drop in his account. Then when I leave I’ll tell you his and you can keep blessing him!!!”

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Tonee, Whittaker discovers, lives with kidney disease and spends nine hours a night on dialysis, but shows up at the airport to play every day. Until now, the biggest tip he had ever received was $600.

Keeping an eye on donations, which he can see are trickling in through $5 or $20 bills, Whittaker spots the numbers going up and up. Soon, they hit $10,000, and he decides it’s time to tell Tonee what’s going on.

“I got an Instagram following,” he explains to the pianist. “I got like a 170,000 people that follow me.” And, he says, “I need to let you know that I’m about to give you $10,000.”

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A gobsmacked Tonee holds his hand to his mouth in disbelief.

“I got to go catch a flight,” Whittaker continues. “But you are loved, you are adored and I don’t know what you need to do with $10,000 but it’s yours.”

He tells Tonee he will leave his cash app on Instagram for 24 hours, to allow people to keep giving. “I know you’ve been through a lot and you deserve this,” he adds. “I’m so glad I ran into you.”

As they wish each other love, the pianist grabs Whittaker before he leaves for his flight, saying: “I gotta hug you, man”.

Running to catch his flight, Whittaker tells his followers: “You changed that man’s life after 30 minutes in the airport. Don’t you tell me that we can’t come together.”

In a follow-up post, Whittaker reveals the $10,000 of donations has now grown to $61,000.

“I love it when we show the talking heads who make a living stoking outrage that there’s a better way to be human,” he adds.

Whittaker later told CNN: “My online community has turned into this thing where we all collectively decide to change someone’s life whenever we get a chance. I know people with 1 million followers who can’t raise a few thousand dollars, but we’re just 200,000 and they just give and they’re so excited about it. It’s a blessing.”

Tonee, meanwhile, told the publication he plans to use some of the money to help others the way Whittaker helped him.

“That $60,000 is not mine. It’s money that’s going to go to others,” he said. “There is only one way to say thank you, because words are inadequate. And that is to pay this forward.”