4 Musicians Who Have Navigated Hearing Loss in Their Careers

It’s stating the obvious to say that music is an audible art form. While there are some innovators like Myles de Bastion who reimagine sound into visuals for the deaf community, in general people listen to music. But what happens when hearing loss affects the production of songs by a music stalwart?

Videos by American Songwriter

Below, we will dive into the histories, lives, and catalogs of four musical artists who experienced hearing loss either early, late, or in the middle of their lives.

[RELATED: k.flay Talks Hearing Loss, Humor and Her New LP ‘MONO’]

1. Paul Simon

Paul Simon, the 81-year-old sweet-voiced brilliant songwriter, is now, he says, beginning to accept his new hearing loss. Simon, who announced his hearing loss earlier in May of 2023, says it’s difficult to swallow since making music is his profession and his solace, but he’s starting to deal with it. “Quite suddenly, I lost most of the hearing in my left ear, and nobody has an explanation for it,” he told The Guardian. “So everything became more difficult.”

2. Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson, unlike Simon, has been dealing with deafness in one ear for much of his life. Despite being the intricate, Hall of Fame songwriter from the Beach Boys—a band that relies on pinpoint precise harmonies—Wilson has struggled with hearing loss since boyhood. In 2000, Wilson said in an interview with ABC’s 20/20, “I was born deaf […] [My father] hit me with a 2×4, but I was already deaf by that time.” Wilson, who speaks out of the side of his mouth due to his hearing loss, even tried reconstructive surgery in the ’60s to no avail.

3. K.Flay

K.Flay, the modern-day rap-rocker, only recently began to experience hearing loss. Highlighting this issue, Flay released her newest album this year, MONO, the title of which is tongue-and-cheek. (Mono as opposed to stereo surround sound.) When asked about her new album, which begins with the song, “Are You Serious?,” Flay told American Songwriter:

“’Are you serious?’ was the very first song I wrote after the hearing loss when I was still in this kind of liminal state regarding my future as a musician—I wasn’t sure how recording music would feel, if I would freak out if I’d sink into a massive depression, if I’d feel invigorated. So, that song really captured a moment of reckoning, a really vulnerable moment. And I think that’s what makes it an important first track.

“I didn’t want MONO to be a record about the hearing loss, per se, but I did want it to be a record about handling pain and how we build narratives around our own hardship. And the narrative I’ve been building around the hearing loss is one of growth and levity. I think a sense of humor is absolutely crucial when dealing with massive change. Humor alongside grief, neither supplanting the other.”

4. Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven, the German composer famous for myriad songs including “Moonlight Sonata,” began to go deaf later in his life. The artist, who was born in 1770 and who lived until 1827, was almost entirely deaf by 1814 (though he could still hear low tones and sudden loud noises). The ailments pushed the reclusive Beethoven from society and even caused severe depression and even suicidal thoughts. While it didn’t stop him from writing music, it did stop him from performing in public.

Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

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