Blind Boone (GuardianLV.com)
On January 25, 2014 AfriClassical posted:
ColumbiaTribune.com: 'Blind Tom' Wiggins' 1880 piano 'duel' with John William Boone in Columbia, MO to be reenacted March 3, 2014
Here is another article on John William Boone which mentions his success in taking up the challenge made to the audience by Thomas Wiggins at a public concert:
Added by Cynthia Collins on February 27, 2014
The inability to see did not prevent “Blind” Boone from becoming a nationally known concert pianist whose performances combined classical music and ragtime. As an African American, born in 1864 to a former slave, he overcame great hardship, poverty and discrimination to use his talent to inspire others.
His mother, Rachel Boone, had been working in a federal army camp in north central Missouri as a cook during the Civil War. After her son’s birth, the young mother and Willy, as she called him, moved to Warrensburg to work for several families. Willy came down with cerebral meningitis when he was six months old which left him blind.
Despite the fact that he could not see, his musical talent was developing. People started giving him small instruments including a harmonica and triangle. Willy and his friends formed a band and earned money playing for different events. His mother knew her son needed to be in a specialized school but she could not afford it. A former senator from Missouri, Francis Cockrell, convinced the county authorities to pay the train fare and all fees at the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis. Some of the women in Warrensburg sewed clothes Willy would need for school. He boarded the train for a 225-mile trip to St. Louis that would change his life.
The Missouri School for the Blind encouraged students to be independent by teaching them skills to do so. Teachers wanted Boone to learn Braille and develop a skill of making brooms to earn some money but it was no use. He loved school but did not want to make brooms. Instead, he would quietly leave his classes and go to where the older students were practicing piano. It was during one of these sessions that a white student noticed Boone could play the classical music by ear he heard in the practice sessions.
The student started giving Boone piano lessons. Even after only hearing something once, the prodigy could play it perfectly. He soon was playing for social gatherings in the superintendent’s home, and for churches and events during school breaks back in Warrensburg.
He was hired by John Lange, a concert hall owner in Columbia, Missouri to play a Christmas program. The owner later wrote to Boone’s mother for permission to manage his career. She was to receive a monthly portion of her son’s earnings until he turned 21 when he would be a partner in the company. Lange was true to his word and the Blind Boone Company was successful.
Another blind pianist, Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, came to Columbia to give a concert. He, like Boone, could play back any composition he heard. During his performance, the audience was challenged to play back Wiggins’ music. Boone took up the challenge and played what he heard perfectly.