A host of Stewart's close friends on the team, including linebacker Jon Beason, have listened to his music in the locker room to remain calm in the tense moments before a game. Wide receiver Steve Smith even owns a few of Stewart's CD's. Stewart, who began playing the keyboard in third grade, describes his style of music as “hip-pop,” a mix between R&B and pop music. He considers Kanye West and Alicia Keys as two of his biggest musical influences, for the rapper's creativity and the actresses' abilities on the piano.
On Friday night, Stewart will explain how music has enriched his life at a guest appearance at Classical Idol, a fundraising concert for the Charlotte Symphony. The Panthers' sixth-year running back will also perform briefly on the piano.
“Without music, I wouldn't have had the focus, discipline and dedication for football,” Stewart said. “Music is my outlet and refuge. I use it to relax and provide balance after a long, tough game.”
Remarkably, the aspiring music producer has flourished as a keyboard artist despite never receiving formal music lessons. Instead, Stewart has a unique ability to play entirely from the music he hears by ear. Moments after listening to Chris Brown's 2008 hit song Superhuman, Stewart said it only took him a minute to comprehend the melody and 30 minutes to replay it.
“It's different from playing chords, but it's not too tough,” Stewart said. “It's just kind of one of those crazy gifts where you can hear a sound and immediately be able to play it.”
The concert, which is at the McGlohon Theater in Downtown Charlotte, will benefit the Youth Orchestra music education program at the symphony. Stewart has plans to auction a signed football for the benefit.
Stewart is one of several current and former NFL players that have exhibited a deft touch on a keyboard. Former Lions quarterback Joey Harrington, an accomplished jazz pianist, has performed with prominent artists such as Jason Mraz, Third Eye Blind and Blues Traveler. Troy Polamalu learned how to read music in his junior year at USC and made a cameo last summer as a classical piano player in a Head and Shoulders, “Deep like Me,” commercial. And like Stewart, former Cowboys running back Marion Barber used the piano as an escape from the rigors of life as an NFL running back.
The NFL's player engagement program also offers initiatives for current players to learn more about the music industry as a way of helping them prepare for a second career. In March, nearly two dozen players took part in the second annual Business of Music Boot Camp at New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, Raiders safety Tyvon Branch and Ravens offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie were among the participants at the four-day event.
Stewart, who has rushed for more than 3,800 yards and 27 touchdowns since entering the league, may explore a career in music once his time in the NFL comes to an end.
"I love music and play it every day, whether it's my piano, or making a song,” Stewart said. “Music will be with me long after my football career ends.”
Keep your eye on everything NFL by following Matt Rybaltowski on Twitter @mattrybaltowski.