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Strangers raise over $60K in tips for airport pianist after Instagram influencer shares his story

Carlos Whittaker decided to surprise Tonee and asked his followers to send in any amount of money as tips, that he would then transfer to Tonee before catching his flight.

Strangers raise over $60K in tips for airport pianist after Instagram influencer shares his story
Image Source: Instagram/Carlos Whittaker

When they say everything happens for a reason, it seems hard to believe. But a heartwarming incident exemplifying this saying has managed to change one man's life overnight.

Carlos Whittaker is a Nashville-based author, podcaster, and motivational speaker. After an event he was supposed to go to got canceled, he was going back home. He was disappointed since it would cost him money. At the Atlanta airport, he decided to grab a bite before his flight which was in about 45 minutes. There he chanced upon the airport's pianist, joyfully playing tunes for the moving crowd of people going to different places.



Whittaker shared the pianist's performance on his Instagram where he has over 200K followers. He could not help but admire the pianist's passion for playing his tunes irrespective of who was listening. He noted how no one was paying attention to the tunes and decided he would do more than just enjoy his music from afar. He also noticed how his tip jar barely had any money in it. So Whittaker decided to walk up to the man and struck a conversation with him. He learned that his name was Tonee Valentine (real name Carter) and asked him if he had Venmo or Cash App so he could transfer a huge tip for playing the piano so brilliantly.



Through his conversation, he also found out about Tonee's colorful past and difficult present life. Tonee "has kidney disease and is on dialysis 9 hours every night but still comes into work every day to play" he explained in the caption of the video he posted on Instagram that has now gone viral. He then decided to surprise Tonee before his flight. He asked his followers to send in any amount of money as tips that he would then transfer to Tonee before catching his flight. In less than an hour, Whittaker had received about $10,000. "I love it when we show the talking heads who make a living stoking outrage that there’s a better way to be human. This is it," he said of his followers' quick response to help a man out.


“He asked me: Do I have hope in humanity?” Tonee told The Washington Post. “And I told him no. I didn’t see it.” He then added, “Of course, that changed.” Whittaker then called Tonee over and said, “They just deposited $10,000,” to which an incredulous Tonee said, “Who’s they?” Whittaker then explained, “170,000 strangers that loved your piano playing. I asked them to give you money, and in 35 minutes — because you’re a great human being, and you’re changing people’s lives when you do this, and you’re so sincere, and people love you — I got it in my Venmo.” 


Tonee was touched by the gesture and teared up. Whittaker let him know that he would leave his Cash App details on his Instagram bio so people could continue to contribute for the rest of the day. Over the span of two days, people came together to raise $61,000 for Tonee. “This guy, Carlos Whittaker, blew into my life like a tsunami,” he said. “I was having a typical day at work, and now, I’ve been blessed by this man and his followers.” He hopes to pay this generosity forward and also get an oil change for his car. 



Tonee, who has been playing the piano since he was five, decided to make it his profession and for 11 years he traveled across 87 countries later as a pianist on cruise ships. But in 2008, it was revealed that his kidneys were functioning at just 10%, turning his life upside down. "I have to do what I have to do to live. But I'm so happy because when I'm not going through dialysis, I'm not going through heart problems, brain tumors, or cancer. Maybe I don't have working kidneys, but I get up and go to work every day," he told ABC 7. "Yes, my life is a little inconvenient and yes, it isn't what it used to be. No, I don't have any strength and yes, I'm weak sometimes and a lot of my days aren't good, but damn I'm here. I'm happy. Hell yeah, I'm the happiest person I know."



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