When David Tolley got his ticket to the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, he expected to laugh at some great jokes and enjoy some great piano playing by the special musical guest. But the pianist was forced to cancel the gig last minute, so Carson was stuck with an open slot and no talent to fill it with.
Since dead time on air is the worst thing for a TV show, Johnny Carson did the only thing he could do, he turned to his audience and asked if anyone out in the crowd could play piano. A few hands shot up in the air, but none were higher than David Tolley. And after answering a few of Carson’s questions, Tolly was invited up to the stage in order to perform to the studio audience and millions watching at home…
Johnny Carson had no idea what Tolley would be able to do on the piano. But after asking him a few question, he selected him from the audience pool and invited him on stage. After a quick commercial break, Tolley was sitting at the piano and eager to play for the audience. This was going to be the big break he had dreamed about his whole life.
During his moment, Tolley played a familiar number from the Broadway hit show “Cats.” The audience ate it up and cheered loudly what the young performer was done.
That one moment changed David Tolley’s career forever. Being featured, spontaneously, on The Tonight Show gave the young performer the platform he needed to reach the right ears. And he has never looked back since.
As one of eight kids raised by a single mother, David Tolley always had a strong work ethic. And since he rose to fame, that work-hard attitude never waned.
Since his fateful moment on The Tonight Show, David Tolley went on to become a music professor at Delaware State University. He has also toured Europe, played piano at the White House, and has composed original music at Disneyland Paris. Plus, Tolley is the mastermind and writer behind seven musicals.
If it wasn’t for this “random” chance to get to play on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, David Tolley might never have earned the fame he deserved. It’s amazing to watch someone like Carson change a young performer’s life forever.
“I wasn’t nervous because I didn’t know what was happening, it really seemed like an amazing dream to me,” David Tolley wrote in the YouTube video comment. “I would of been sovereign in my flip flops if I would of comprehended that 28 million people were watching.”
Here’s what some fans on YouTube had to say:
- “That is quite possibly the best rendition of Memories I have ever heard. Well done!”
- “Wow! How amazing was that!! Just subbed and seen this clip…I was like no way..lol
- “Good for you!!:) You’re classical pieces are my favorite. Finally found a pianist that gives these beautiful masterpieces justice. Thank you!!”