22-year-old pianist composes music for ‘Billy


PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — He was a legendary jazz composer, a gay icon and an inspiration to many people in the Black community. Now there is a new show at Pittsburgh Public Theater telling the story and honoring the accomplishments of Billy Strayhorn. 

While on the stage, this musical follows the successes of one composer. But down in the orchestra pit, another young musician is measuring his own success.

Matthew Whitaker is the composer and musical director of “Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For,” one of the latest productions at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

“All of them are just so beautiful and well written. From the music to the lyrics, it’s all there,” said 22-year-old Whitaker. 

Whitaker has the task of arranging and orchestrating all of the music for the show featuring a nine-piece band.

Original songs and some new ones tell the origin story of one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. Not only is Whitaker doing all of this at just 22 years old, he also happens to be doing it blind.

“It’s an honor to be compared to Stevie, but there is only one Stevie Wonder,” he said. 

Whitaker tells KDKA-TV music has been a blessing throughout his life. His father Moses Whitaker attributes his musical gift to another gift he received at a young age.

“Matt was 3 years old. He came home from school and he was playing the keyboard his grandfather had given him and he was playing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ with both hands,” his dad said. 

From nursery rhymes to throwback TV jingles and now performing in front of large audiences, Whitaker has always been encouraged by his family to play from the heart, not the head — a message that continues to be his major key to unlocking new opportunities.

“Especially in jazz because in jazz music, you really have the room to do you and be free and express yourself musically,” he said. 

You can get tickets here.

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