Wednesday, February 10, 2016 The last slave: ‘Blind Tom’ Wiggins’ remarkable tale [Thomas Wiggins is featured at]

Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins (1849-1908) was an African American pianist and composer. He was a blind and autistic slave who nevertheless was a musical genius. He is profiled at, which features a complete Works List by the late Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,

The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist: America's Lost Musical Genius; Deirdre O’Connell; Overlook Press (2009)

The New York Post

February 8, 2016


By Michael Taube

Black History Month, as the late president Gerald Ford eloquently said in 1976, encourages Americans every February to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Prominent black Americans like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver often figure prominently in this discussion, whereas pathbreaking but lesser-known figures mostly get overlooked.

Like Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins.
Blind Tom may well have been one of America’s greatest musical prodigies, yet remains far too obscure in American culture and history.
Born a slave in Harris County, Ga., in May 1849, Blind Tom was unable to work the plantation owned by Gen. James Neil Bethune. He was therefore allowed to wander around freely and discover the world in a way that other black Americans of the time couldn’t have even dreamed of.
As the story goes, he was intrigued by the piano after listening to Bethune’s daughters play it. He was able to memorize pieces in a flash and, by the age of 5, wrote his first composition, “The Rain Storm.”
Bethune immediately recognized the young boy’s talent. He was moved into the family home in an adjoining room with a piano, and reportedly played for many hours each day.
As Blind Tom got older, he was loaned out to concert promoter Perry Oliver and toured the country. He was an immediate sensation, earning more than $100,000 per year and was often compared to great composers like Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
He astonished audiences, and could apparently play several songs at once. He had memorized somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 pieces of music. His magnificent 1861 composition, “The Battle of Manassas,” beautifully fits in with other great music from the Civil War era.
His admirers included then-president James Buchanan (he was the first black American to perform at the White House) and Mark Twain.

Comment by email:
Thanks Bill, Delighted Tom is getting some publicity. Hope all is well, Deirdre [Deirdre O'Connell]

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