An airport piano player earned $60,000 in tips after a stranger shared videos of him on Instagram

Tonee "Valentine" Carter: "I am happiest playing piano and watching people respond to that happiness with theirs."

(CNN)When Tonee "Valentine" Carter sits in front of a piano, his fingers take on a life of their own, dancing across the keys as he smiles, closes his eyes, and sinks into a melody.

Carter, 66, isn't famous, but he does perform for an international audience nearly every day at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Travelers lucky enough to hear him often find themselves hypnotized by his music.
That's what happened to Carlos Whittaker, a motivational speaker who was traveling home to Tennessee on Wednesday morning after a speaking engagement was canceled.
"I was super bummed that morning and had to reroute to Atlanta. As I was walking through the concourse, I heard someone playing the piano, and I just had to walk by them," Whittaker, 46, told CNN. "There was Tonee, going down and going to town and I knew I just had to stay there."
For an hour and a half Whittaker sat at the piano bar in Concourse A, listening to the music that seemed to effortlessly flow from Carter's fingertips. The author, podcaster and Instagram influencer also took videos of the musician and shared them with his "InstaFamilia," which include more than 200,000 followers.
Eventually, the two men began talking, even sharing intimate details about their lives.
When Carter returned to his piano, Whittaker came up with an idea.
"Suddenly I was like, what would happen if I asked my Instagram followers if we could give him the biggest tip he's ever gotten," he said. "Within 30 minutes, we had raised $10,000."
In a video he shared on Instagram, Whittaker captured the moment he told Carter that a bunch of people he had never met quickly came together to raise thousands of dollars just for him.
"I just lost it. I thought he was kidding, I just couldn't believe it. That just doesn't happen," Carter told CNN. "I didn't know how to feel. This is the kind of the thing I do. I love giving and donating and helping people, but I never expected someone to do it for me."
Before Whittaker boarded his plane, he told his followers they could continue to tip Carter on Venmo and CashApp.
"By the time I landed in Nashville, it was $20,000. And by the time I interviewed him for my podcast that night, it was $44,000. And as of this conversation, it's at $61,000," Whittaker said on Friday evening.

Despite health problems, he's 'the happiest man in the world'

Carter was just 6 years old when his father, also a pianist, took him to a Ray Charles concert.
"I was done. I knew exactly then that's what I wanted to do and I've been obsessed ever since," said the musician, whose stage name is Valentine. "Once its in your heart, it's in you and it ain't going nowhere."
Carter said that no matter what's going on in the world, music reminds him that "life is good."
"When I'm playing, I feel like the happiest man in the world," he added. "The happiest person in the world. I am happiest playing piano and watching people respond to that happiness with theirs."
Carter plays piano at a pizzeria and bar on Concourse A at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
But Carter hasn't had the easiest life. In fact, he's lucky to be alive.
In 2008, while working as a pianist on a cruise ship, Carter learned he has kidney disease. His doctor told him that his kidneys were functioning at just 10%.
The diagnosis turned his life upside down. For decades before then, he played in bands and worked cruise ships. But now he must reserve his evenings for life-saving dialysis treatment.
"I have to do what I have to do to live. But I'm so happy, because when I'm not going through dialysis, I'm not going through heart problems, brain tumors or cancer. Maybe I don't have working kidneys, but I get up and go to work everyday," he said.