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23rd August 2016

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Spotlight on the Superhuman Musicians

It seems that 2016 is set to be another record-breaking Paralympic summer, and not just in the stadium, as Channel 4's We're the Superhumans campaign reaches audiences of millions. At the time of writing, the video has been watched by over 28 million people, with 1.26 million shares across social media, making it already the second-most-shared Olympics related ad of all time.1

The advert celebrates the abilities of people with a range of impairments and aptly features the iconic Sammy David Jr track 'Yes I Can' performed by a 'Superhuman' big band. Of the 140 total people with disabilities featured in the extraordinary advert, 16 musicians assembled from every corner of the world make up this incredible big band. The track was recorded in the famous Studio 2 of Abbey Road Studios and Universal Music have since released the single with all profits being donated to the British Paralympics Association.2

We've taken a look at who some of these phenomenal performers are:

Rachel Starritt - Piano

The incredible Welsh blind pianist who can learn entire concertos by ear

Blind pianist, Rachel Starritt, proves that no matter what kind of disability you have, where there’s a will, there’s a way

Rachel, who has perfect pitch and achieved grade 8 piano aged 14, is the first blind student to study at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Rachel practices as much as four hours a day and says "the piano is so much a part of me that I don't feel complete without it."3

When interviewed by Channel 4, Rachel said "To be with people with a wide range of disabilities makes me believe that no matter what you are, where you come from, what kind of disability you have, where there's a will, there's a way. And that's exactly what's displayed in our song 'Yes I Can'"4

Alvin Law - Drums

The Canadian who 'can do more with his feet than most can with their hands'

Alvin Law, the drummer born without arms, uses his story to challenge and inspire audiences

Alvin was born without arms and has used his story to challenge and inspire audiences as a drummer and as a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker. The truly inspiring Canadian musician also plays piano and trombone and has helped charities raise over $150,000,000.5

"I've always felt musical. It was something that was in my blood. I used to bang on pots and pans when I was like 3, 4 years old…It's so weird that this song is called 'Yes I Can' because it was my mantra in our home growing up. My mum and dad said it until I was tired of it: there's no such thing as can't"6

Tony Dee - Vocals

The Brisbane-born smooth crooner with Spina Bifida who loves putting a smile on people's faces

Tony Dee, the face and smooth crooning voice of the Superhumans campaign

With his love of swinging tunes and gentle love songs from the early jazz days to the 1950's and beyond, Tony's singing influences include Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat "King" Cole and Elvis Presley.7

Tony was born with Spina Bifida and has used a wheelchair for all his life. Tony is passionate about 'living life to the full' and said he hoped the breakthrough would lead to a career in live performance.8 And with a voice like his, this is sure to happen!

"The point of superhuman is saying to me that I can do so much more than I ever dreamed or expected."9

Neill Duncan - Saxophone

The Australian saxophonist whose career almost came to an end because of cancer

Saxophonist, Neill Duncan, now plays an instrument that has been designed for him to play with one hand

"I'm a musician. I support my family with one tool: my saxophone. So discovering I had cancer in my arm - and then having it chopped off - was a very dark time."10

But then a friend found an instrument maker in Amsterdam who made instruments for one-armed musicians. Neill said "It's been amazing. When I first picked it up to play it was completely out of this world…Its put me back into a place where I'm doing what I should be doing on this planet"11

"To know people are seeing this and going 'Wow, ok! If he can do that, or they can do this, then maybe I need to think about a few things I could possibly do.'"12

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games run from the 7th to the 18th September in Rio, with Channel 4 providing extensive coverage. Channel 4's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Dan Brooke said: "This campaign is the most important we have ever undertaken and isn't just about Rio, it's about revolutionising public attitudes to disability forever."

  1. Oakes, O. 2016, Channel 4's 'We're the superhumans' is already second-most-shared Olympics ad', 3 August 2016, viewed 9 August 2016, www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/channel-4s-were-superhumans-already-second-most-shared-olympics-ad/1404420
  2. 'C4 launches major campaigns for Rio Paralympics: We're The Superhumans', viewed 9 August 2016, www.channel4.com/info/press/news/c4-launches-major-campaign-for-rio-paralympics-were-the-superhumans
  3. Wightwick, A. 'Meet the extraordinary blind pianist who can learn entire concertos by ear and classify a note simply by hearing it' Wales Online, 18 December 2014, viewed 9th August 2016, www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/meet-extraordinary-blind-pianist-who-8310599
  4. 'Pianist Rachel Starritt: Superhuman Stories', Channel 4 YouTube Channel, published 14 July 2016, viewed 9 August 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MR-vCCcvqcg
  5. Law, A., www.alvinlaw.com, viewed 9 August 2016
  6. Drummer Alvin Law: Superhuman Stories, Channel 4 Youtube Channel, published 14 July 2016, viewed 9 August 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZ_K22WV7a0
  7. Tony Dee Profile Page, Can-do-musos, viewed 9 August 2016, www.candomusos.com/profile-tony-dee.php
  8. Bavas, J., 'Brisbane singer hopes successful Rio 2016 Paralympics music video will leaf to new career', 26 July 2016, viewed 9 August 2016, www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-26/rio-2016-paralympic-promo-video-singer-hopes-for-new-career/7660182
  9. 'Big Band Singer Tony Dee: Superhuman Stories', Channel 4 Youtube Channel, published 14 July 2016, viewed 9 August 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctQuQjkJQF4
  10. Carroll, L., 'Life-changing event: Losing an arm', The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Jan 2014, viewed 9 August 2016, www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/lifechanging-event-losing-an-arm-20131231-3046p.html
  11. 'The saxophone for a one-handed musician', BBC News, 2 June 2016, viewed 9 August 2016, www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36436220
  12. 'Saxophonist Neil Duncan: Superhuman Stories', Channel 4 YouTube Channel, published 14 July 2016, viewed 9 August 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5QQKs5HOlw