To see Patrick Hughes in his wheelchair at a piano, it's easy to underestimate his talents. Born without eyes, he is completely blind and has a condition that causes webbing between his arms and legs that restricts his movement and leaves him unable to walk. None of that really matters, however, when Patrick's fingers hit the keys. "I think of him as a great pianist," says his piano teacher Hinda Ordman. "He's got a set of fingers that can fly."

And a voice to match. After singing with Faith Hill at one of her concerts and with Pam Tillis at the Grand Ole Opry, Hughes, 17, is set to appear May 16 at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where he will receive the Young Soloists Award from VSA arts, an organization fostering artistic achievement in disabled people. "Patrick makes people feel good," says Tillis. "He just lights up a room with his feelings for music."

A Louisville native, Hughes has been shining that light since he was just 9 months old, when his father, Patrick John, 44, a package handler for UPS, began playing the family piano to calm him. "The piano was a great babysitter," says Hughes. He was soon mimicking his father, and by 2 could play recognizable tunes. Patrick mastered concertos by ear, and his first major performance—a United Way fundraiser at a Louisville concert hall—came at 7. "Blind people I had known were so withdrawn," says his mother, Patricia, 44, a sales assistant at a brokerage firm, who encouraged his talents. "I wasn't going to have Patrick like that."

Not a problem. The high school junior and self-described show-off loves adoring crowds. "I want to be a country star," he says. "I'm blind and I can't walk, but I don't let it stop me."