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List of people with synesthesia: Wikis


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This is a list of famous people who have, or had, the neurological condition synesthesia. Following that, there is a list of people who are often wrongly believed to have had synesthesia because they used it as a device in their art, poetry or music (referred to as pseudo-synesthetes). Finally, there is a short list of people who have received a speculative, posthumous diagnosis of synesthesia, or who are thought to possibly be synesthetes based on second or third hand sources. These are listed as "still under review" in the expectation that additional data will help to clarify their status.




Tori Amos

Singer/songwriter/pianist (born August 22, 1963). Music → color.

"The song appears as light filament once I've cracked it. As long as I've been doing this, which is more than thirty-five years, I've never seen a duplicate song structure. I've never seen the same light creature in my life. Obviously similar chord progressions follow similar light patterns, but try to imagine the best kaleidoscope ever."

From the autobiography, "Piece by Piece"

Rollo Armstrong

Producer/mixer, member of Faithless (born 1967). Music → color.

"He gets on with the broad strokes, textures and colors — that’s how he hears music, he’s got that synesthesia (a phenomenon where sounds have color), he says ‘make it really sad, like a rainy day, I want to hear thunder’ — and I get on with all the anal fiddly bits."

Sister Bliss talking about her working relationship with Rollo Armstrong.[1]

Steve Aylett

British author (born 1967). Music → color.

"It’s not as strange or unusual as it’s made out to be - it’s just a bit of a crossover of different senses. So I see music, taste some colours and so on. I think the music thing is very common, but people tell themselves that that isn’t what’s happening."

From Fractal Matter interview with Steve Aylett.[2]

Amy Beach

American pianist and composer (September 5, 1867 – December 27, 1944). It turns out that the 19th-century American classical composer Amy Beach had both perfect pitch and a set of colors for musical keys (musical keys → color). Here are two quotes from biographies:

"Other interesting stories about Amy’s musical personality and her astounding abilities as a prodigy are recounted in almost all previous biographical writings. One such story is Amy’s association of certain colors with certain keys. For instance, Amy might ask her mother to play the ‘purple music’ or the ‘green music.’ The most popular story, however, seems to be the one about Amy’s going on a trip to California and notating on staff paper the exact pitches of bird calls she heard."

From Jeanell Brown, p. 16.[3]

"Amy’s mother encouraged her to relate melodies to the colors blue, pink, or purple, but before long Amy had a wider range of colors, which she associated with certain major keys. Thus C was white, F-sharp black, E yellow, G red, A green, A-flat blue, D-flat violet or purple, and E-flat pink. Until the end of her life she associated these colors with those keys."

From Walter Jenkins, pp. 5-6.[4]

Leonard Bernstein

American composer and conductor (August 25, 1918 - October 14, 1990). Timbre → color synesthesia, which he talked about during his "Young People's Concerts" series (the "What is orchestration" segment).[5]

Eugen Bleuler

Swiss psychiatrist (April 30, 1857 - July 15, 1939). Originator of the term schizophrenia. Phonemes → color.[6]

Sir Robert Cailliau

World Wide Web pioneer at CERN (January 26, 1947). His website includes his color-coded alphabet.[7]

Stephanie Carswell

Australian actress and soprano (born 1985). Lexeme → color.

"Monday is yellow; Tuesday is quite a deep red; Wednesday is sort of a grass green; Thursday is a much darker green but still quite bright; Friday has always confused me, it’s either a very dark purple, blue or grey; Saturday is white; and Sunday is sort of a light peach colour. For anyone who doesn’t understand what’s happening here, I have a neurological condition called synesthesia which means that I ‘see’ words in colours."

From Stephanie Carswell Q & A web site.[8]

Antoine d'Abbadie

French geographer and explorer (January 3, 1810 - March 19, 1897). Number form synesthesia.[9]

Duke Ellington

Composer and pianist (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974). Timbre → color.

"I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it’s one color. I hear the same note played by someone else and it’s a different color. When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colors that you do, but I see them in textures. If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin."

Ellington, as quoted in Don George, p. 226.[10]

Richard Feynman

Physicist (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988). Winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics. Feynman had colored letters and numbers (graphemes → color).

"When I see equations, I see the letters in colors – I don't know why. As I'm talking, I see vague pictures of Bessel functions from Jahnke and Emde's book, with light-tan j's, slightly violet-bluish n's, and dark brown x's flying around. And I wonder what the hell it must look like to the students."

From Richard Feynman, p. 59.[11]

Hélène Grimaud

French pianist (born November 7, 1969). Grimaud has colored numbers (graphemes → color) and sees music in colors (music → color).

"It was when I was eleven, and working on the F sharp major Prelude from the first book of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier - I perceived something that was very bright, between red and orange, very warm and vivid: an almost shapeless stain, rather like what you would see in the recording control-room if the image of sound were projected on a screen. But as numbers had always had colours for me - two was yellow, four was red, five was green - and as I have always found music evocative, I didn't regard this as unusual. It was more the idea of colour than colour itself. Certain pieces always project me into a particular colour-world. Sometimes it's a result of the tonality - C minor is black, and D minor, the key that has always been closest to me, being the most dramatic and poignant is blue."

From Credo - Hélène Grimaud interviewed by Michael Church.[12]

Robyn Hitchcock

Singer/songwriter (born March 3, 1953). Multiple synesthiae.

"A thought struck me: if my new album sounds this good on a walkman, what would Roxy Music sound like? A mere two years later I bought one and found out. However, on a train, a few years later still, I had negative synaesthesia eating a bacon sandwich and listening to a solo Ferry album, which turned me vegetarian."

From the liner notes of the I Wanna Go Backwards box set.[13]

David Hockney

Artist (born July 9, 1937). Music → color. Hockney sees synesthetic colors to musical stimuli. In general, this does not show up in his painting or photography artwork too much. However, it is a common underlying principle in his construction of stage sets for various ballets and operas, where he bases the background colors and lighting upon his own seen colors while listening to the music of the theater piece he is working on.[14]

Billy Joel

Singer/songwriter/composer (born May 9, 1949) Sound → color.[15]


British Painter (born 1975). Music → color. Known as The Music Painter, Kilford’s paintings are the physical representation of music based on the colours he sees when he hears music. His paintings are created by either painting live alongside musicians during their performances or in his studio where he either creates paintings based on individual tracks or is visited by musicians who perform as Kilford paints. Kilford has painted live alongside a wide range of musicians including Paul Weller, Robert Plant, Damon Albarn, Black Eyed Peas, Brian Eno, Deep Purple, Status Quo and The Charlatans amongst others.[16]

Brooks Kerr

Jazz pianist. Musical notes → color.

"With the little bit of sight he possessed, Brooks was unable to read or to identify objects, and lead sheets remained a forever closed door to him, but he was able to differentiate colors. I remember when he first told us that in his mind’s eye every musical note was a different color and that the scale resembled a rainbow. He fingered a C on the piano, explaining, ‘This note is red.’ He hit a D. ‘This one is dark blue.’ He hit an F. ‘This is yellow.’ His finger wandered to a G. ‘This one is light blue …’"

From Don George, pp. 225-226.[17]

György Ligeti

Composer (May 28, 1923 – June 12, 2006). Grapheme → color.

""I am inclined to synaesthetic perception. I associate sounds with colours and shapes. Like Rimbaud, I feel that all letters have a colour." "Major chords are red or pink, minor chords are somewhere between green and brown. I do not have perfect pitch, so when I say that C minor has a rusty red-brown colour and D minor is brown this does not come from the pitch but from the letters C and D. I think it must go back to my childhood. I find, for instance, that numbers also have colours; 1 is steely grey, 2 is orange, 5 is green. At some point these associations must have got fixed, perhaps I saw the green number 5 on a stamp or on a shop sign. But there must be some collective associations too. For most people the sound of a trumpet is probably yellow although I find it red because of its shrillness …."

From György Ligeti, p. 58.[18]

Franz Liszt

Composer (October 22, 1811 – July 31, 1886). Music → color.

"When Liszt first began as Kapellmeister in Weimar (1842), it astonished the orchestra that he said: 'O please, gentlemen, a little bluer, if you please! This tone type requires it!' Or: 'That is a deep violet, please, depend on it! Not so rose!' First the orchestra believed Liszt just joked; more later they got accustomed to the fact that the great musician seemed to see colors there, where there were only tones."

Anonymous, as quoted in Friedrich Mahling, p. 230. (Translation by Sean A. Day.)[19]

Marian McPartland

Jazz pianist, composer, radio personality, associates keys with colors.[20] She has stated that: "You see, nobody ever told me it was difficult to play in certain keys, like F sharp. Personally, I find C a hard key. It's very sterile to me. Somehow all the keys seem to have colors and textures. I love B and E and A and F sharp. I actually associate them with colors, but Jim Hall, the guitarist, does too, so I don't feel that ridiculous about it."[21] In another quote: "The key of D is daffodil yellow, B major is maroon, and B flat is blue."[22]

Trash McSweeney

Lead vocalist and guitarist for The Red Paintings. Chordal structure → color.[23]

Olivier Messiaen

Composer and organist (December 10, 1908 – April 27, 1992). Chordal structure → color. Olivier Messiaen was self-admittedly a synesthete, as is quite well detailed in his own writings and in interviews. Many of his compositions, such as Oiseaux Exotiques, L'ascension, and Couleurs de la cite celeste, are directly based upon his, in a sense, trying to "produce pictures" via sound, writing specific notes to produce specific color sequences and blends.[24]

Stephanie Morgenstern

Actress and film director (born 10 December 1965). Graphemes → color; musical notes → color.[25]

"A few years ago, I mentioned to a friend that I remembered phone numbers by their colour. He said "So you're a synesthete!" I hadn't heard of synesthesia (which means something close to sense-fusion') – I only knew that numbers seemed naturally to have colours: five is blue, two is green, three is red… And music has colours too: the key of C# minor is a sharp, tangy yellow, F major is a warm brown..."

Stephanie Morgenstern interview.[25]

Vladimir Nabokov

Author (April 22, 1899 – July 2, 1977). Grapheme → color. In his autobiography, Speak Memory (1966), the Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov tells us of his

"fine case of colored hearing. Perhaps 'hearing' is not quite accurate, since the color sensation seems to be produced by the very act of my orally forming a given letter while I imagine its outline. The long a of the English alphabet (and it is this alphabet I have in mind farther on unless otherwise stated) has for me the tint of weathered wood, but a French a evokes polished ebony. This black group also includes hard g (vulcanized rubber) and r (a sooty rag bag being ripped). Oatmeal n, noodle-limp l, and the ivory-backed hand mirror of o take care of the whites. I am puzzled by my French on which I see as the brimming tension-surface of alcohol in a small glass. Passing on to the blue group, there is steely x, thundercloud z, and huckleberry k. Since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape, I see q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl. Adjacent tints do not merge, and diphthongs do not have special colors of their own, unless represented by a single character in some other language (thus the fluffy-gray, three-stemmed Russian letter that stands for sh [Ш], a letter as old as the rushes of the Nile, influences its English representation)."
" ... In the green group, there are alder-leaf f, the unripe apple of p, and pistachio t. Dull green, combined somehow with violet, is the best I can do for w. The yellows comprise various e's and i's, creamy d, bright-golden y, and u, whose alphabetical value I can express only by 'brassy with an olive sheen.' In the brown group, there are the rich rubbery tone of soft g, paler j, and the drab shoelace of h. Finally, among the reds, b has the tone called burnt sienna by painters, m is a fold of pink flannel, and today I have at last perfectly matched v with 'Rose Quartz' in Maerz and Paul's Dictionary of Color. The word for rainbow, a primary, but decidedly muddy, rainbow, is in my private language the hardly pronounceable: kzspygv"

From Vladimir Nabokov, p. 34-35.[26]

It should be mentioned that Nabokov's mother, Elena Ivanovna, was a synesthete, as was also his wife, Véra, and his son Dmitri Nabokov.[27]

Karl Robert Osten-Sacken

Russian diplomat and entomologist (1828–1906). Number form synesthesia.[9]

Joachim Raff

Composer (May 27, 1822 - June 24 or 25, 1882). Timbre → color. In 1855, the composer Joachim Raff "declared that the sounds of instruments produced color impressions of various kinds. Thus the sound of a flute produced the sensation of intense azure blue; of the hautboy [oboe], yellow; cornet, green; trumpet, scarlet; the French horn, purple; and the flageolet [bassoon], grey. The clearest and most distinct shades were those evoked by the high notes" (Krohn 1892 : 22). It is unknown whether Raff was a synaesthete; he may well have been, but this small set of colored timbres does not provide enough information, without more direct claims as to where the correspondences originate from.[28]

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Composer (March 6, 1844 – June 8, 1908). Musical keys → color. Rimsky-Korsakov synesthetically experienced colors for musical keys (musical keys →color). For example, for him, the key of C major was white, and the key of B major was a gloomy dark blue with a steel shine.[29]

Solomon Shereshevskii

Russian journalist and mnemonist (1886–1958). Multiple synesthesiae. As the subject of a book-length case study, The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About a Vast Memory, by neuropsychologist Alexander Luria, Shereshevskii was named only with the initial "S". Luria details Sherevskii's fivefold synesthesia, how he used his synesthesia to perform feats of memory, including memorizing complex mathematical formulae, huge matrices and even poems in foreign languages, and later in life, how Shereshevskii was burdened by his inability to forget even the most trivial details.

Jean Sibelius

Composer (December 8, 1865 – September 20, 1957). Sound → color.

"For him there existed a strange, mysterious connection between sound and color, between the most secret perceptions of the eye and ear. Everything he saw produced a corresponding impression on his ear – every impression of sound was transferred and fixed as color on the retina of his eye and thence to his memory. And this he thought as natural, with as good reason as those who did not possess this faculty called him crazy or affectedly original."
"For this reason he only spoke of this in the strictest confidence and under a pledge of silence. 'For otherwise they will make fun of me!'"

From Karl Ekman, pp. 41-42.[30][31]

Ida Maria Børli Sivertsen

Singer/Songwriter (born July 13, 1984). Sound → color synesthesia.[32]

Patrick Stump

Lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Fall Out Boy (born April 27, 1984). Claims to have grapheme → color synesthesia.

"So this isn't really news but it's come to my attention that I have a common form of synesthesia known as grapheme to color synesthesia. It is (according to Wikipedia....who are always right...right?) 'A neurologically-based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in secondary sensory or cognitive pathway.' The shorthand is basically that your senses are crossed. Like some synthetics can 'Taste' colors or 'See' sounds. In the case of graphame to color synthetics it basically means that one interprets written information as 'Colored.' For instance the letter 'F' for me is green. When I see it written in black I obviously still notice that it is black but it 'Feels' green. Or 'S' is red. Most of the alphabet and numbers from 1-10 have some sort of associated color to me. It's ultimately totally trivial but I found it fascinating that this is a documented phenomenon and not just me being a weirdo."

Patrick Stump's blog entry, August 18, 2008.[33][34]

Daniel Tammet

Autistic savant (born January 31, 1979). Grapheme → color/shape.[35]

Sabriye Tenberken

Of Braille Without Borders (born 1970). Multiple synesthesiae.

"Tenberken had impaired vision almost from birth, but was able to make out faces and landscapes until she was 12. As a child in Germany, she had a particular predilection for colours, and loved painting, and when she was no longer able to decipher shapes and forms she could still use colours to identify objects. Tenberken has, indeed an intense synaesthesia. "'As far back as I can remember,' she writes, 'numbers and words have instantly triggered colours in me ... number four, for example [is] gold. Five is light green. Nine is vermillion... Days of week, as well as months, have their colours, too.' Her synaesthesia has persisted and been intensified, it seems, by her blindness"

From [36]

Michael Torke

Composer (born September 22, 1961). Multiple synesthesiae. This claim is supported by Torke's numerous interviews with major synesthesia researchers.[37]

Eddie Van Halen

Guitarist (born January 26, 1955). Sound → color.[27]

Pharrell Williams

Hip-hop producer and artist (born April 5, 1973). Music → color.

"It just always stuck out in my mind, and I could always see it. I don't know if that makes sense, but I could always visualize what I was hearing... Yeah, it was always like weird colors."

From a Nightline interview with Pharrell

Sam Endicott

Lead singer of The Bravery. Music → color.

"Synesthesia is when your brain sees music as colors. That is what my brain does, and these are the colors I see when I hear this song,"

From, Slow Poison video premiere

Stevie Wonder

Singer/songwriter and record producer (born May 13, 1950). Sound → color.[27]


Proposed others which are still under review

  • Syd Barrett (January 6, 1946 - July 7, 2006), composer; multiple synesthesiae
  • Jimi Hendrix (November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970), musician
  • Victor Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885), writer
  • Richard D. James aka Aphex Twin (born August 18, 1971), Cornish electronic music artist; musical sounds and words → color
  • Wassily Kandinsky (December 16, 1866 – December 13, 1944), painter
  • John Mayer (October 16, 1978), musician, sound to color
  • Anthony Powell (December 21, 1905 - March 28, 2000), writer
  • Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959), architect, claimed to hear music sometimes while designing buildings
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer, describes colours experienced by the protagonist upon hearing a female character's voice in "Rapaccini's Daughter."
  • Geoff Emerick, recording engineer, described sound tones in terms of colours.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher (1889–1951) Possible case of grapheme - colour synaesthesia, based on this quote from the book Zettel: "It’s just like the way some people do not understand the question 'What color has the vowel A for you?'"
  • Adil Omar, rapper/singer-songwriter with sound and color synesthesia.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher. (In the Genealogy of Morality, he describes Schopenhauer's words as "green and black.")
  • Devin Townsend, Canadian musician, frequently relates sound to colors and numbers in interviews and demonstrations.


  1. ^ Sound Generator Interview retrieved Aug. 26, 2006
  2. ^ Fractal Matter interview with Steve Aylett
  3. ^ Brown, Jeanell Wise. Amy Beach and her chamber music: biography, documents, style. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994. P. 16. References are to letters in the Crawford Collection, Library of Congress.
  4. ^ Jenkins, Walter S. The remarkable Mrs. Beach, American composer. Warren, Mich.: Harmonie Park Press, 1994. Pp. 5-6. Reference is to an interview of Beach by George Y. Loveridge in the Providence (RI) Journal, Dec. 4, 1937, p. 5.
  5. ^ The Leonard Bernstein Official Site: For Young People
  6. ^ Bleuler, Eugen, and Karl Lehmann. 1881. Zwansmässige Lichtempindungen durch Schall und verwandte Erscheinungen auf dem Gebiete der andern Sinnesempfindungen. Leipzig: Fues's Verlag.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Stephanie Carswell Q & A web site
  9. ^ a b Galton, Sir francis. 1881. "Visualized numerals." Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland; volume 10: 85-102.
  10. ^ Ellington, as quoted in George, Don. 1981. Sweet man: The real Duke Ellington. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Page 226.
  11. ^ Feynman, Richard. 1988. What Do You Care What Other People Think? New York: Norton. P. 59.
  12. ^ Credo - Hélène Grimaud interviewed by Michael Church
  13. ^ (2007) "Black Snake Diamond Role", p. 4 [CD booklet]. Album notes for I Wanna Go Backwards by Robyn Hitchcock. Chapel Hill, NC: Yep Roc Records.
  14. ^ see Cytowic, Richard E. 2002. Synaesthesia: a Union of the Senses. Second edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  15. ^ Radio interview with Richard Cytowic and Sean Day,, Boston's NPR News Source.
  16. ^ Songs in the colour blue, Gulf News, July 2, 2008,, retrieved 2008-08-14  
  17. ^ George, Don. 1981. Sweet man: The real Duke Ellington. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Pp. 225-226.
  18. ^ Ligeti, György. 1983 (1981). Ligeti in conversation. London: Eulenburg Books. Page 58.
  19. ^ Quoted from an anonymous article in the Neuen Berliner Musikzeitung (29 August 1895); quoted in Mahling, Friedrich. 1926. "Das Problem der 'Audition colorée: Eine historische-kritische Untersuchung." Archiv für die Gesamte Psychologie; LVII Band. Leipzig: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft M.B.H. Pp. 165-301. Page 230. Translation by Sean A. Day.
  20. ^ Hasson, Claire. A Discussion Of Marian McPartland's Style in Marian McPartland: Jazz Pianist: An Overview of a Career
  21. ^ Lyons, L. (1983) The Great Jazz Pianists, p. 173, New York: Da Capo Press Inc.
  22. ^ Balliett, W. (1977) New York Notes: A Journal Of Jazz In The Seventies, New York: Da Capo Press Inc. p. 289.
  23. ^
  24. ^ see Samuel, Claude. 1994 (1986). Olivier Messiaen: Music and Color. Conversations with Claude Samuel. Translated by E. Thomas Glasow. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press.
  25. ^ a b see Raskin, Richard. 2003. An interview with Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis on Remembrance. P.O.V., A Danish Journal of Film Studies; number 15 (March): 170-184.
  26. ^ Nabokov, Vladimir. 1966. Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited. New York: Putnam.
  27. ^ a b c Cytowic, Richard E; Eagelman, David M (2009). Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia (with an afterword by Dmitri Nabokov). Cambridge: MIT Press. pp. 93. ISBN 0-262-01279-9
  28. ^ Krohn, W.O. 1892. “Pseudo-chromaesthesia, or The Association of Color with Words, Letters, and Sounds.” American Journal of Psychology; volume 5: 20-41.
  29. ^ This is according to an article in the Russian press, Yastrebtsev V. "On N.A.Rimsky-Korsakov's color sound- contemplation." Russkaya muzykalnaya gazeta, 1908, N 39-40, p. 842-845 (in Russian), cited by Bulat Galeyev (1999).
  30. ^ Adolf Paul (1890), En Bok om en Människa, as quoted in Ekman 1938: 41-42.
  31. ^ Ekman, Karl. 1938. Jean Sibelius: His life and personality. Translated from the Finnish by Edward Birse. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  32. ^ She was diagnosed as a child with synesthesia, a condition that makes you experience sensations together, rather than separately, as most people do. In Sivertsen’s case, this means she sees colours when she hears music. "It’s wonderful," she says. "And it probably saved my life a couple of times - life looks so rich with patterns and colours." Times Online Interview with Ida Maria
  33. ^ Patrick Stump's blog
  34. ^
  35. ^ Tammet, Daniel. 2006. "Born on a blue day." London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.
  36. ^ see also Tenberken, Sabriye. 2003/2000. My path leads to Tibet. New York: Arcade Publishing.
  37. ^ see Duffy, Patricia Lynne. 2001. Blue cats and chartreuse kittens: how synesthetes color their worlds. New York: Henry Holt.
  38. ^ a b Dann, Kevin T. 1998. Bright Colors Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  39. ^ B. M. Galeyev and I. L. Vanechkina (August 2001). "Was Scriabin a Synesthete?". Leonardo; Vol. 34, Issue 4, pp. 357 - 362.
  40. ^ Scriabin, Alexander. 1995(1911). "Poem of Ecstasy" and "Prometheus: Poem of Fire". New York: Dover.


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