Airport Pianist Earns $60k in Tips After Stranger Posts Him on Instagram

A stranger posted an airport pianist on Instagram. Turns out, that stranger was an influencer, and his 170,000 followers contributed over $60k in tips for the pianist.

It was a typical Wednesday for Tonee “Valentine” Carter as he headed to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. He plays the piano in Terminal A, amid the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s busiest airports. 

Author and motivational speaker, Carlos Whittaker, was on an hour-long layover to Nashville when he noticed the 66-year-old pianist “playing his heart out.” Whittaker pulled his phone out and began recording him for his more than 170,000 Instagram followers. Whittaker approached the tip bowl and struck up a conversation with Carter.

“He asked me: Do I have hope in humanity?” Carter told The Washington Post. “And I told him no. I didn’t see it. Of course, that changed.”

In a matter of minutes, Whittaker’s followers and strangers began sending money through cash apps, which accumulated over $10,000 in just half an hour. In two days, the amount topped $61,000. Messages poured in expressing their appreciation for Carter and his talent.

Carter was unaware of the generosity at first, but Whittaker revealed the tip amount just before his flight took off. “Come on, man,” said Carter. “Are you kidding me, man?” Since this day, Carter has gained over 10,000 Instagram followers and has become a must-see destination for fans traveling through the Atlanta airport.

“This guy, Carlos Whittaker, blew into my life like a tsunami,” said Carter. “I was having a typical day at work, and now, I’ve been blessed by this man and his followers.”

As the two men spoke, Carter shared with Whittaker that he receives nightly dialysis treatment for kidney disease. Despite his hours-long, daily treatment, Carter said that he had it much better than others. “He’s just so happy and joyful,” Whittaker told The Post. “He kind of has this smile that he does when he plays where his mouth is halfway open like he’s laughing. It’s just his energy is very impactful.”

Carter plays the piano for approximately 16 hours per week. “Some people are listening, some people aren’t,” he said. “But for me, it’s not a big deal, because I enjoy playing the music. I play for one person like I play for 300. It doesn’t matter.”