Born without eyes and without the ability to fully straighten his arms and legs 31 years ago, Patrick is not able to walk and has had surgery to insert two steel rods to his spine to correct scoliosis. He has had artificial eyes fitted and uses a wheelchair. While for most of us, this may sound like the makings of a story of tragedy, instead it is one of triumph.
About his limitations, Patrick said: “God made me blind and unable to walk. Big deal! He gave me the musical gifts I have and the great opportunity to meet new people.”
Along with his remarkable musical talents, Patrick has excelled at school and university, graduating magna cum laude from the University of Louisville in 2010, where his major was Spanish, which he speaks fluently.
After Patrick’s birth, his parents felt confused and upset, and their hopes and dreams for their son began to fade. His father, Patrick Snr asked, “Why us? We’ve played by all the rules.”
It was around the time Patrick was nine months old, that he was placed in front of a piano, and incredibly at that young an age, he demonstrated a natural musical talent.
His mother said, “You could go up and hit a note and no matter where it was on the piano, within one or two tries, he would find that exact note.”
By the time he’d reached his second birthday, Patrick was able to play requests for simple melodies, and his father was ecstatic. “Ok,” he thought, “We’re not going to play baseball, but we’re going to play music together. And that was really exciting. Let’s see how far we can run with this.”
The older Patrick grew, the more his passion and talents grew and by grade school he was able to play many of the standards songs, and by high-school his musical skills even included blues numbers. In addition to the piano, Patrick also plays the trumpet and sings.
In 2006, Dr Greg Byrne, the Associate Director of Bands at the University of Louisville, told Patrick that he should be part of the university’s marching band.
Patrick thought, “How in the heck am I supposed to march?”
Playing a trumpet while trying to manoeuvre a wheelchair was just not going to be possible, so they had to work out how to include Patrick in the marching band without leaving him sitting on the sidelines to play.
Patrick Snr thought, “Well if Dr Byrne is so impassioned about it and Patrick wants to do it, then by golly, I’ll give it my all as well.”
So it was that Patrick Jr as well as Patrick Snr became part of the 214 strong Louisville Marching Band, with his father learning the drills and manoeuvres required to push Patrick in his wheelchair in the correct formations. This enabled his talented son to become a fully functioning member of the band.
Patrick and his father’s participation in the marching band drew large crowds to the game and before long his talents became well known throughout the city and his fame eventually spread to the rest of the country.
They participated in pre-game drill practices, then marching around the stadium at football games and performing in front of thousands of people during half-time. Patrick even played at basketball games.
His parents believe that their son is an inspiration for others. Patrick Snr said, “Maybe when they hear him play they recognise, ‘Wow! Imagine the possibilities (that) I didn’t even consider when I saw this young man, that I now know from hearing him play.’”
Since university, Patrick’s story has been featured on a variety of shows including ESPN, The Ellen Show, The Today Show, and Oprah.
He’s played at the Kennedy Centre, at Kentucky State Fair, and twice at the Grand Ole Opry, and has performed with Faith Hill, Pam Tillis, Lonestar and others.
He was featured in Sports Illustrated, People Magazine and many more, and even played for Muhammad Ali.
Father and son have travelled across the USA and other countries such as Central and South America, Europe, Asia and Canada to share their story about overcoming obstacles, and as a way of inspiring others.
Patrick has recorded two CDs of well-known songs and even includes some of his own compositions. Additionally, their first book “I Am Potential” has been published, and in 2015 became a feature length movie starring Jimmy Bellinger as Patrick and Burgess Jenkins as his father.
Patrick Snr said of his son, “He’s my hero… What he goes through – it’s taught me that I don’t have any complaints. I guess a father couldn’t ask for anything more than the relationship that I have with Patrick.”
Patrick has achieved more than many of us do in a lifetime. He graduated from college magna cum laude in 2010, is a world-renowned musician and public speaker. Hughes has also released two albums and authored a successful book, aptly entitled “I Am Potential: Eight Lessons On Living, Loving And Reaching Your Dreams”.
“Back then he was born it was, ‘Why us? What did we do that this happened to us?’” Hughes’ father told ABC. “And we ask the same question nowadays, but we put it in a whole new light. You know, ‘What did we do to deserve such a special young man, who’s brought us so, so much.”