Tony Melendez has a matter-of-fact way of describing his artistry.
“I’m a toe-picking guitarist,” he said. “People are always kind of amazed I can play the guitar with my feet.”
Born without arms, Melendez travels the world to perform and inspire as he plays his guitar and sings. It’s something he’s done for more than 30 years, starting out as a boy who admired his guitar-playing father.
For him, the guitar playing came naturally.
“It really was the music. I wanted to play, and it just kind of happened. I just kept at it and it worked,” he said.
To others, he’s become a source of hope as he’s appeared on national television, including “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “CBS This Morning” and “The Late Show.”
In 1987, he played his guitar and sang “Never Be The Same” for Pope John Paul II in Los Angeles. After the performance, the Pope approached him from the stage to kiss him in appreciation. Since, he’s recorded albums, authored the best-selling autobiography, “A Gift of Hope,” and been featured at countless conferences, retreats, school presentations and churches.
Melendez will appear in concert at 7 p.m. Thursday at Living Waters Lutheran Church, 1808 Miller Road, Crystal Lake. Paid for through private donations, the event will benefit the Crystal Lake and Lake in the Hills food pantries.
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Suggested donations are $20 for adults, $10 for children ages 15 and younger and $35 for families at livingwaters.com. For information on Melendez, visit tonymelendez.com.
Melendez will share a bit about his life and perform a variety of music, including Christian songs and some originals.
“I feel honored when people consider me an inspiration or maybe a gift to their hearts,” he said. “I just love being able to share from the heart. To be able to share Christ is a beautiful thing.”
Melendez’ mother was prescribed thalidomide to help calm morning sickness when she was pregnant with him, and that is believed to be the cause of his birth defect.
He was brought to the Los Angeles area from Nicaragua to be fitted with artificial arms. He wore them until age 10 before disposing of them.
“I didn’t feel comfortable,” his bio states. “I could use my feet so much more.”
Now living in Branson, Missouri, Melendez said his faith has carried him around the world.
Appearing at schools and universities, he said he often gets asked the same questions. But a high school girl recently caught him by surprise when she asked, “How do you tie your shoes?” “I walk up to you and let you tie it,” he responded.
Melendez practices his guitar daily and regularly composes music. Beginning with a collection of contemporary Christian songs entitled “Never Be the Same” in1989, he’s recorded several albums.
“Hands in Heaven (Toe Jam Music)” is described as a “musical look into the heart and soul” and includes “I Wish I Could Hold You,” a tribute to his wife, Lynn, and children.
Melendez also has won numerous awards and honors, including special commendations from President Reagan, the state of California, Variety Clubs of America, Very Special Arts, the city of Los Angeles and countless other civic and charitable organizations.
He received the first Inspirational Hero Award from the NFL Alumni Association at Super Bowl XXIII in Miami.
“I would just like to keep making music, and I just hope everyone enjoys it,” he said.