ATLANTA — A beloved piano player at Atlanta’s airport was gifted over $60,000 from complete strangers after a chance encounter with an Instagram influencer this week.
The tearjerking story played out in real time on the social network.
Tonee Carter plays piano in a corner of Concourse A, bringing a little joy to travelers passing through.
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Channel 2′s Berndt Petersen was at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, where an Instagram influencer and motivational speaker named Carlos Whittaker stopped by to listen to Carter play Thursday.
The two men struck up a conversation, and Carter shared his story, telling Whittaker that he has played at the airport for seven years, but its been harder lately because his kidneys are failing.
“The second he told me he’s on dialysis nine hours a night, wakes up every morning and plays the piano for four hours, I said, ‘This brother is about to get a big tip,’” Whittaker said.
Whitaker shared Carter’s story with his nearly 200,000 followers, asking them to tip Carter through apps Venmo and CashApp.
Within just a few hours, complete strangers had raised $55,000. That figure has since swelled to over $60,000.
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Whittaker documented the whole thing on Instagram, sharing people’s generous tips and updates on how much he had raised as an unaware Carter played in the background.
When Whittfield finally gave the big reveal, Carter seemed at first to not believe him, then burst into tears.
Petersen talked to Carter on Friday about the surreal moment Whittaker told him about all the money that was raised on his behalf.
“He wanted to give me $10,000. It turned into $55,000. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Carter said, breaking down in tears. “This has been one heck of a 24 hours.”
Carter said he doesn’t play at the airport for money. The piano player of 60 years just enjoys bringing a little joy to travelers passing through.
“I do what I do because I love it. It’s never been about money for me,” Carter said. “This is the most fun job I’ve ever had. People love live music. They’ve had a weary travel day. They’re not expecting this, and it changes everything. I love this job.”
Ty Berrian, Carter’s son-in-law, said Carter’s humble reaction to the gift is just like him.
“It’s classic dad. Exactly how he is,” Berrian said. “He handles the spotlight with grace and honor like no other.”
Carter said in all his years of playing, he never expected anything like this to happen.
“This is over the top,” Carter said. “This is God at work.”
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