Herman Whitfield III, genius pianist died during mental health crisis

Herman Whitfield III performs at the Indianapolis Arts Garden on Feb. 13, 2009. Whitfield died while in police custody after being tased April 25, 2022.

Herman Whitfield III smiles as he sits at the piano, his fingers bouncing nimbly off the keys.

Around him, five people twist and jump to Whitfield’s energetic tune in an empty white room. “I believe music is one of the most direct forms of communication we have,” Whitfield says in the 2009 video from the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

The music was different than what one might usually hear from Whitfield, who tended to compose for orchestras. But it nonetheless showcased what those who knew the man frequently called his “genius” music and talent.

“He was phenomenally talented,” said Antonio Pompa-Baldi, an Italian pianist who taught Whitfield piano performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music in the mid-2000s. “Every fiber of his being had a natural inclination towards music.”

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