Tony's amazing feat

January 18, 2007|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Tony Melendez started playing the guitar, as many teenagers do, when he was 16.

Born without arms, Melendez learned to pluck guitar strings with his toes.

Now 44, he has played for Pope John Paul II and made national television appearances.

He takes a message of hope on the road, singing and plucking across the United States and around the world.

On Wednesday afternoon, he stopped at St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown as part of his "Life Tour."

Next week, Melendez is playing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., for a youth rally during the March for Life.

"I thought he was amazing," said Alaina Paden, 18, a senior at St. Maria Goretti. "He overcame his obstacles and found what he can do to affect other people."

St. Maria Goretti students packed the school's gym Wednesday for an afternoon of entertainment and ministry with Melendez, his band and Christian singer Steve Angrisano. Students already familiar with Melendez's songs sang along.


During one song, Melendez had students hug each other, kiss a cheek and give a quick shoulder massage after the lyrics "reach out and touch somebody."

Melendez clapped and pointed with his feet as he introduced his band.

Drummer Timothy Pope got a standing ovation as he beat on the gym floor, showing off his lightning-fast percussion skills

Melendez talked openly about his disability between songs. His mother took the drug thalidomide to ease morning sickness when she was pregnant, and the drug caused the birth defect.

He also talked about writing with his toes in school, and he demonstrated catching a Frisbee between his chin and shoulder and tossing it with his toes.

David McGinley, 17, a St. Maria Goretti student, saw Melendez perform two years ago at an anti-abortion rally.

"I thought he was as outstanding and as inspirational as I've ever seen him," McGinley said.

Despite his obstacles, Melendez knew that he "didn't want to just sit there" and said that he wanted to show young people that "you can do whatever you want to do," Melendez told the crowd.

"You have to build each other up," he said.

He learned how to play guitar mostly by ear and describes his music as "pop acoustic." His music career "exploded" after he played for Pope John Paul II in 1987 during a World Youth Day rally, Melendez said.

"He jumped up and came up on stage and kissed me," he said of the pope.

Since his meeting with the pope, Melendez has released seven albums and an autobiographical book.

Learn more about Melendez at

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