The first time Barbara Merrill heard Kuha’o Case play, she was cleaning a church in Waimea, Hawaii. She could hear Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” echo from another room.“I went in and I said ‘Kuha’o, Kuha’o, where did you hear that music?’” Merrill said.
“When I was a little boy,” Case responded, hands pressed to the white and black keys. “When I was 3 or 4.”
But Case had never had a lesson. And he was blind.
Case was only 2 pounds when he was born and immediately had to go into surgery for his bowels.
“They think that during that surgery is when he became blind,” said Merrill, who knows Case from their church in Waimea. “He was given too much oxygen.”
Through the years, Merrill said, Case’s parents were protective, and he rarely saw his grandparents growing up. But by age 11, he was visiting them every weekend. One day, his grandmother found him playing on an old keyboard in her home.
“She was musical, but she was shocked,” said Merrill, who now lives in Clarkston.
But what’s more shocking, is the fact that Case can play anything. Play him a tune, and he’ll play it back.
“He can listen to a song that he’s never heard, once or twice, and play it perfectly or give out his own arrangement,” Merrill said.
With nearly 45 YouTube videos and 5,000 subscribers, 16-year-old Case has become a YouTube sensation. Seven months ago, Case listened to “Gangnam Style” for the first time, and played it back with near perfection — and his own twist — earning the video almost half a million views.
“He claims that he has a filing cabinet in his head, puts it in, turns the key, locks it up and never forgets it,” Merrill said.
He can play classical, pop, the Beatles, Western music — you name it.
Merrill said his grandfather, or papa, even taught him how to drive in a field on his grandfather’s farm.
“He took the written test, which had to be verbal for him,” Merrill said. “He has a little certificate from the DMV that says he’s passed the driver’s test.”
Merrill said Case is not afraid of anything — driving or performing.
Case has performed with 2011 America’s Got Talent winner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. and has played the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s organ in Salt Lake City. Case has a CD, too, which can be purchased on iTunes. “Dare to Dream” features 10 songs, and covers artists, such as Michael Jackson and Ellie Goulding.
Now, Case is coming to Clarkston to play 7 p.m. Saturday — his 17th birthday — at the Clarkston High School Auditorium. Admission is free.
“He’s a phenomenon to watch,” Merrill said.
Treffry can be contacted at (208) 883-4640 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @LindseyTreffry.
-> if you go:
WHAT: Kuha’o Case performs
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Clarkston High School Auditorium, 401 Chestnut St., Clarkston