Airport Piano Player Receives Over $60K in Tips, Thanks to a Stranger and His Instagram Followers

"I just wanted to let him know that I was listening to him and that somebody sees him," Carlos Whittaker said of pianist Tonee "Valentine" Carter

An airport pianist was given the surprise of a lifetime when a stranger waiting for a flight ended up raising thousands of dollars in tips for him.

Tonee "Valentine" Carter was performing his usual routine at a piano bar in Concourse A of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport when he crossed paths with Carlos Whittaker on July 21, according to Good Morning America.

After striking up a conversation with Carter, Whittaker decided to call on his 220,000+ Instagram followers to support the hardworking pianist, GMA reported.

Within hours, Whittaker's efforts had raised over $60,000 in tips for Carter, leaving the airport musician speechless and feeling nothing but gratitude.

"He asked me if I had any hope in humanity, and I said no, [but] I do now," Carter, 66, told Fox affiliate WAGA. "When people do things like that, total strangers and they hear my story and they want to give me a gift like that. Thankful is inadequate. I want to give back and help people like he's doing."

"I'm going to be helping people for years to come," he added to GMA. "God made me a steward of that money and I ain't letting him down."

Whittaker, who is a motivational speaker, podcaster and author, told GMA he was on his way home to Nashville when he noticed Carter playing his heart out at the piano bar.

As a former musician, Whittaker, 47, said he knew how difficult it can be to play in front of others when they barely listen, so he decided to sit down and watch Carter perform.

"My speaking event in Memphis got canceled so I had to reroute back home, which is why I ended up being in Atlanta for like an hour-and-a-half," Whittaker explained to GMA. "I used to be a musician. I was the opening band for a bunch of bands and nobody ever paid attention to me. So when I saw that nobody was really listening to him, my heart was like, 'Ah, I get it.'"

"I just wanted to let him know that I was listening to him and that somebody sees him," he added to the outlet.

When Whittaker made the decision to ask his Instagram followers for tips, he told GMA it wasn't out of the ordinary, as he's previously called on them to raise money for various causes.

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"A thing that I like to do with my Instagram following is just bless people," he explained to WAGA. "So, I said I wonder what we can raise in 30 minutes. I can Venmo this guy some money."

However, with this situation, Whittaker only expected to raise around $2,500, according to GMA.

"What I didn't know was how far outside of my social media this thing would go," he admitted to the outlet.

Within 30 minutes, Whittaker's followers raised $10,000 in tips, GMA reported. The exciting news was shared with Carter in an Instagram video, where the pianist got emotional and expressed his disbelief.

"I didn't believe it," Carter told GMA of the moment. "But it was real."

Later, as Whittaker prepared for his next flight, the tips kept pouring in, GMA reported.

"By the time I landed in Nashville, it was at like $25,000, and by the time I talked to him that evening, it was $44,000," Whittaker told the outlet.

Eventually, the tips hit $61,000 — an amount that Carter told GMA made him "overwhelmed" and caused him to start "bawling again."

The kind gesture meant even more to Carter, who, after working as a pianist on cruises for 11 years, found out he had kidney disease in 2008, according to the outlet.

The diagnosis forced him to stop working on the ship and be on dialysis every evening for nine hours, he told GMA.

When the airport contacted him for a gig that same year, Carter admitted that he wasn't thrilled at first, but decided to give it a chance.

"I went out to play for an hour but I ended up playing for three hours because I was having too much fun," he told GMA. "Thirteen years later, I'm still here."

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With the money, Carter said he plans on getting an oil change for his car and then donating the rest to make quarterly donations to the American Kidney Foundation, GMA reported.

"That money's not mine," he said. "I'm going to be paying it forward."

And the money wasn't the only thing Carter gained from the situation either, according to GMA. He told the outlet that he and Whittaker have remained close and often chat via text message and on the phone.

"We're not friends," Carter explained to GMA. "We're family now."

Added Whittaker: "I'd love to see his talent used for even bigger reasons. He's literally the kindest human."

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