The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist: America's Lost Musical Genius
Overlook Press (2009)
Jan 16, 2017
In September the nation celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
Designed by architect David Adjaye, the building pays homage to the intricate ironwork crafted by enslaved African Americans in Louisiana, South Carolina, and elsewhere.
Inside its walls visitors journey from the horror of slavery to the inspiration of modern day heroes. Many prominent Black Americans are featured inside. But you'll also find stories of the hidden history America, stories of those who are often forgotten, like Blind Tom Wiggins Greene.
"Tom Wiggins was a piano, musical prodigy", said Dwandalyn Reece, Curator of Music and Performing Arts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Born in 1856 in Columbus, Georgia, Thomas Wiggins was a slave, born blind with mental challenges.
"He might have been autistic", said Reece.
The world came to know him as Blind Tom and he composed more than a thousand compositions. But he almost never played a single note. His owners thought his disabilities made him useless and wanted him killed.
"He was unable to work in the fields or do any kind of hard labor,” Reece said.
But his mother pleaded with Colonel James Bethune, to buy her entire family to spare Blind Tom's life. The colonel agreed and it turned out to be an act of compassion that would earn the Bethune family a fortune.
Blind Tom had an encyclopedic memory and could mimic sounds.
"He could master anything. Languages, sounds of animals. What Tom Wiggins was able to do was incorporate the sounds and everything he has heard and experience and put it in his own compositions," said Reece.
At the age of 3, while playing in the slave master's house, Tom found a piano and played his first piece. By the age of 5 he was performing for audiences around the world.
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Comment by email:
Hi Bill, Must mean Black History month is approaching! Thanks for all your support. Best, Deirdre [Deirdre O'Connell]