Corey Gerard "Fingers" Brooks, a blind Baltimore pianist and organist who was known for his spirited renditions of gospel, jazz and rhythm and blues classics, died from complications of diabetes Tuesday at Mercy Medical Center. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 41.
Mr. Brooks was born in Baltimore into a family of musicians, and raised in the city's Mount Winans neighborhood.
His father, Jerome Brooks, now of Randallstown, is a drummer and pianist as well as a founder of The Ambassadors band. His mother, Delores P. Brooks of Baltimore, was a singer who performed under the name of Delores Parson. Also, four of his uncles were musicians.
"He was premature and weighed only 2 pounds at his birth," his mother said.
He suffered from retinopathy of prematurity, a disease of the eyes that affects premature babies and causes blindness.
"He'd meet every challenge in life and never let them get him down," his mother said. "He first began playing when he was 4, when I put him in my lap so he could sit in front of the piano. And even then, he had a very keen ear."
Friends said Mr. Brooks gave up wrestling in his high school years to concentrate on his music.
"When Corey played gospel music, it brought health to the spirit and peace to the soul," his mother said.
While a student at the School for the Blind, he met and fell in love with a fellow student two years older, Adrienne Nicholson, and became her first accompanist.
"He was also my piano teacher and we developed a friendship that turned into a courtship. Wherever you saw Lady A, you saw Corey. We were the musical couple," she said.
They married eight years ago. Mrs. Brooks performs professionally under the name of Lady A.
Mr. Brooks had the unusual ability of hearing a song once and instantly playing it back -- and making it a permanent part of his vast repertoire.
"I guess you could say he was a child prodigy and just very talented. He had perfect pitch. I remember one time when the guys were over and Corey heard them play "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone,'" his father said. "He ran over to the piano and immediately chorded it. It just blew my mind. He could play anything."
Mr. Brooks began playing professionally when he was 17, and made several gospel recordings in the late 1980s.
He was an original member of the Next Level Band in Baltimore and XPD Band in Annapolis, and since 1993 has been a keyboardist and musical director of the Gumption Group, which is the recording band for Gumption Records in Baltimore.
He recently recorded a CD, Gumption! Ain't Got None? You Better Get Some!, and produced The Gumption Revue: Love Is The Thing and The Bleu Lights Forever -- all for Gumption Records.
"Corey could play any style of music you needed and it always had an authentic feel. He knew a million songs which he could play from memory," said Clayton McLendon, featured guitarist with the Gumption Group. "One of his songs I loved was `Willow Weep for Me,' which he played in a swing version. It was just fantastic."
"He was a wonderful young man and a born piano player. He could play piano as good as Stevie Wonder or better," said Tom Stauch of Abingdon, better known as Tommy Vann, founder of The Echoes.
In addition to playing in area churches and restaurants, and at private social gatherings, he also was a regular at the York Inn, Maceo's Lounge and the Arch Social Club.
From 1987 until 2005, Mr. Brooks was a music specialist with the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks' Therapeutic Recreation Division, where he was a vocal instructor and taught piano and organ. For the last two years, he had been musical director at Rehoboth International Covenant Church in Baltimore.
"The piano was his way of expressing his self-worth and humanity. He could always touch your heart through his music," said Jerome McCardell, retired supervisor of the therapeutic recreation division.