Zayne Harshaw, founder of Blue Spectrum, performs at the ARC of Ohio People First dance on July 12, 2019, at the Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center in Lewis Center, Ohio. (Doral Chenoweth III/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

Guitarist with autism wows listeners

The only audience Zayne Harshaw trusted when he started playing the electric guitar was the darkness.

He locked the bedroom door, turned off the lights and for months the then-14-year-old would strum alone, too fearful to let anyone see him working to mimic the music of legendary guitar players.

Then one day Zayne placed his amplifier in the window when his dad and older brother were walking out of their Gahanna, Ohio home.

Gene Harshaw heard Jimmy Hendrix’s famous “Purple Haze” guitar intro blaring and told his oldest boy, Marquise, to go tell Zayne to turn the radio down.

“Dad that isn’t the radio,” Marquise said. “That’s Zayne playing.”

When Zayne was 4, he was formally diagnosed with autism. Gene and Gwendolyn Harshaw were told their little boy wouldn’t have much of a life. He wouldn’t be able to read or engage with other children.

Now 24, Zayne is playing paid gigs with his Blue Spectrum band at music festivals and other events across the country, and proving those doctors wrong with a gift he developed in the dark.

Zayne still struggles to read music, but he is among the rare group of people who are considered to have absolute or perfect pitch.

“The doctors were wrong,” Zayne said. “I know I’m a little different and I get nervous about it, but when I get on the stage I feel like it’s where I belong. I can’t explain it. I just love to play.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.