Leslie Lemke: blind, savant piano player on That's Incredible! (1981)

As regular BB readers know, the original That's Incredible! television show had a big impact on me, with its coverage of curiosities, strange phenomena, stunts, and amazing and unusual people. I distinctly remember being moved, even as a ten-year-old, by the episode featuring Leslie Lemke, a blind autistic savant with cerebral palsy who was a fantastic piano player at a young age. According to May Lemke, Leslie's adoptive mother, Leslie sang a lot as a child. Then, when he was 14, she heard piano music in the middle of the night. She thought they had left the TV on but it turned out that Leslie was playing a Tchaikovsky piano concerto that he had heard in a TV movie that evening. Above is the 1981 segment I remembered from That's Incredible! Leslie was also seen in a 1983 episode of 60 Minutes on savant syndrome, and he still performs concerts around the country. "Leslie Lemke: An Inspirational Performance" (Wisconsin Medical Society)

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  1. I remember That's Incredible very well. A strange mix of exploiting and celebrating the odd. (I associate the show with soft-serve sundaes from Carvel . . . because Wednesday was Sundae at Carvel!)

    Years after the That's Incredible showing, Lemke and his siblings appeared on an interview show; it might have been Phil Donahue's.

    The siblings were not happy with their mother's exploitation of Leslie; she was either deceased or an invalid at the time and no longer had custody.

    Leslie performed when asked, beginning with a chipper "sure thing!"

  2. KipTW says:

    Thanks a lot! I've been wanting to see that clip again for, well, 32 years, and my attempts to find out what's become of Mr. Lemke have all come to nothing — until today! I was just commenting at YouTube or somewhere, at a video with a similarly able piano player, and mentioned Leslie Lemke (whose name I had wrong, of course), so this is a very timely post.

    Good to know he's still performing. What ability! And what an amazing, patient woman his foster mother was. What we call miracles seem to happen around people like her — saints, I'd say.

    Check the YouTube videos around this one, by the way. "May's Miracle" is in three parts (link goes to part 1), and it's all about Lemke and his playing and family. (Thanks again! This is what I love about the net.)

  3. @pesco That was incredible. I love his mother, she reminds me of my own grandmother, tenacious and wonderful. If you haven't seen it, this short clip of him playing for her is poetic and moving.. she has Alzheimer's and looks a bit zombied out until he starts playing and then something in her brain just turns on again.

    [vimeo 58403206 w=695 h=390]

    Just crying buckets right now.

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