How Paraplegic Frank Barham Found His Love For Music

Editor’s Note: 58-year-old Frank Barham, of Atlanta, is living his dream. He has a deep understanding of what a musician is. He is passionate about learning and playing great music– a true musician never stops learning. He knows that jazz is a never ending journey of trying to become better and expressing his view of the world through the music he plays. The following article is an interview, written in Frank’s words, about the impact that music has had on his life – before and after his spinal cord injury.

You can catch Frank playing in jazz & blues clubs around Atlanta.
You can catch Frank playing in jazz & blues clubs around Atlanta.

Frank: I’ve done a variety of things throughout my professional career before I decided to become an avid musician. My instrument of choice is the chromatic harmonica. Soon after my injury, I met an inspiring man named Chris Turner. He is a world class musician who also specializes in the harmonica. Chris played the chromatic harmonica with class four symphony orchestras and was the world solo diatonic harmonica champion at one point.

I became interested in playing a harmonica to keep life interesting. I knew I wanted to play jazz music, and Chris suggested that I learn. I’ve been playing the harmonica for many years now.

I’ve also met Toots Thielmans who is one of the greatest chromatic players in the world, like Stevie Wonder. Basically I learned to play my harmonica by studying with other musicians who played other instruments, particularly pianists. I was constantly improving on how to play the harmonica.

Right now, I spend my days practicing the harmonica, and at night, I sit in with jazz musicians in the Atlanta area.

I’ve been fortunate to sit in with great musicians like Jez Graham, James Schneider, Lola Gulley, and Charley Wooten, who plays in a band called Zydefunk as well as playing with the Charley Wooten Project. I also play in the Northside Tavern Jam Sessions in Atlanta on Monday nights.

Frank plays regularly in the Northside Tavern Jam Sessions in Atlanta on Monday nights.
Frank plays regularly in the Northside Tavern Jam Sessions in Atlanta on Monday nights.

How Frank’s Music Career Began

Through the years, I’ve had quite a few different jobs. I was a computer programmer and consultant for about 17 years and worked with a variety of companies in that field. I was involved in a Y2 project and HIPAA conversions. At the time when I was first injured and became a paraplegic, I worked in sales.

After my injury, I had more than one part-time job to make a living because back then, people in wheelchairs weren’t covered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Finding full-time work was difficult. I was also a radio DJ for a while–this is when I eventually transitioned into IT. I also worked for the Centers of Disease Control and Bank of America.

Frank has played with a variety of notable jazz and blues musicians.
Frank has played with a variety of notable jazz and blues musicians.

However, always in the background and somewhat suppressed, was my love for music. Finally, I made the decision to follow my dream of becoming a full-time musician.

Music is a powerful tool for self healing, dealing with emotions and being able to translate feelings when words are inadequate. I’ve found that music can change my moods, helps me escape from depression and brings joy into my life.

See Frank in action as he plays the chromatic harmonica in the video below:

Additional Resources From Wheel:Life on Relationships 

Reconnecting-CoverLowRes240x240Within Reconnecting: Relationship Advice from Wheelchair Users, readers will hear from people who use wheelchairs as they share their perspective on friends, family and relationships including dating, marriage and parenting.

Author Lisa Wells shares real-life examples and success stories throughout the book based on her lengthy career that includes ongoing interactions with disability advocates, non-profit supporters and peer support group members.

Reconnecting: Relationship Advice from Wheelchair Users features interviews with:

  • Graduate student & quadriplegic Ather Sharif about connecting on a college campus
  • Amputee Thomas Morris on connecting through his unique appearance and personality
  • NSCIA [Buffalo, NY chapter] President Natalie Barnhard who connects Wheels with Wings
  • Paraplegic Todd Robinson who explains his family connection through the joy of adoption
  • Quadriplegic Ashleigh Justice who connects on the quad rugby field and as a young mother


About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at


1 Response

  1. Our brother Frank Barham was killed in a car crash that also killed and supporter Margaret Kargbo. Carrie Johnson was also with them and survived but is in critical condition.

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