George Dennehy plays guitar, bass and cello, yet has never picked up a single instrument.
“I’m sure one of the first things you guys noticed is I don’t have any arms,” the 19-year-old Internet sensation told students during a performance at Alfred G. Waters Middle School near Middletown on Friday. “Sometime I like to tell people I went to the beach and a shark got me, or I went to the Amazon and got attacked by cannibals, just to see their reaction.”
A singer-songwriter who plays guitar with his feet, Dennehy has certainly gotten plenty of reaction over the last year.
A video of the teen performing the Goo Goo Dolls’ song “Iris” at the Ashland, Va., Strawberry Faire went viral last summer, racking up more than 700,000 views on Youtube.
The Goo Goo Dolls eventually took notice and invited Dennehy to perform with them at the 10-day Muskikfest in Bethlehem, Pa. in September. A video of that performance garnered another 150,000 views.
Since then, Dennehy has released two singles on iTunes and recently finished recording an EP of original material with award-winning musician Jason Reeves, who co-wrote Colbie Caillat’s 2007 monster hit “Bubbly.”
In the meantime, he’s also maintained a steady schedule of appearances and show dates on the East Coast, including Friday’s two-set gig at Waters Middle School.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” Dennehy said between performances that were equal parts rock concert and motivational speech. “I had actually gone to new student orientation at Liberty University, but then my career exploded all of the sudden and I’ve been doing this full time ever since.”
Dennehy’s present and promising future are a far cry from the small village in Romania where he was born, and where his difference was viewed as a literal curse from God.
“Because of their superstition, the people in the village believe a baby who is ‘not perfect’ is a curse on the family, the village, even the hospital, so they were not very cool to say the least,” he told the students on Friday.
His impoverished birth family eventually sent him to an orphanage, where he was largely ignored until a family from Virginia adopted the 18-month-old, who at that time weighed just 9 pounds.
Dennehy says his adopted parents raised him like any other child, including signing him up for cello lessons at the age of 8.
“They must have sensed something musical in me, I guess,” he said. “I don’t really know what they were thinking, but I do know my teacher taught herself to play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ with her feet, just to be sure it was possible, before she would agree to teach me.”
Page 2 of 2 - Between performances of his original songs and a few covers, Dennehy also related his own awkward middle school years – including the cruel taunts of classmates – and implored the students at Waters Middle to treat each other with kindness and respect.
“I encourage you guys, as much as you can, to love everyone,” he said. “Sometimes, the kids who keep to themselves or you stay away from are the ones that need love or a hug the most.”
Seventh-grader Josiah Jones said he was blown away by Dennehy music and message.
“He plays guitar better than I do,” he said. “I like that he was all about going after your dreams and not letting obstacles stop you. It was a really good lesson.”
Fellow seventh-grader Elizabeth Gillespie said she planned to check out Dennehy on Instagram and Twitter, where he goes by ThatArmlessDude.
“I’ll probably check out his music too,” she said. “I think it’s amazing a guy with no arms can play guitar so well.”