Black US jazz pianist. His prodigious technical virtuosity attracted the admiration of such classical pianists as Walter Geiseking and Vladimir Horowitz, who came to night clubs to hear him.
Born with cataracts in both eyes, after surgery Tatum was blind in one eye and had diminished sight in the other. He attended a school for the blind in Columbus, Ohio, and studied music for two years in Toledo. He first played as a professional locally; subsequent performances on local radio (1929–31) led to engagements all over the country and by 1938 he was playing in Europe. He usually performed in a trio with bass and guitar. His last big concert was in the Hollywood Bowl in 1956.
In the mid-1950s he made more than 120 solo recordings and several trio and quartet records. The quartet set, with tenor saxophonist Ben Webster (1909–73), is particularly highly regarded. Perhaps his most revealing solo recordings were made after hours in Harlem night clubs on portable recording equipment in 1940–41; these were released in the album God is in the House (1973).