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The true story of a black musical savant in the era of slavery

This book tells us nothing about slavery and everything about slavery. Poor Tom Wiggins, blind and mentally deficient, born into slavery as nothing more than chattel. Was he sold down the river at the first opportunity? Was he beaten until he crawled off somewhere to die? Did he suffer any of the ten thousand horrors that are daily enumerated as justification for the violence of a race demanding entitlements and reparations? In a word – NO!

Drawn to music as a means of both understanding and communicating he was by age four playing the family piano. His gift was obviously fostered and even though he lived out his life under a guardianship the conditions of that life were far better than the average citizen and of an order of magnitude better than the vast majority of his race.

So why the emphasis on slavery? It is apparently de rigueur for academic success and gives the work a credential for publication in this age of political correctness. Poor Blind Tom indeed. His chains have been reattached to make him acceptable as a symbol for the left and his music can no longer be heard over their cacophonous caterwauling.

The ballad of Blind Tom New York : Overlook Duckworth, 2009 Deirdre O’Connell Pianists United States Biography, Blind Tom, 1849-1908 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. 288 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [265]-278) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Born into slavery in Georgia, Tom Wiggins died an international celebrity in New York in 1908. His life was one of the most bizarre and moving episodes in American history. Born blind and autistic – and so unable to work with other slaves – Tom was left to his own devices. He was mesmerized by the music of the family’s young daughters, and by the time he was four Tom was playing tunes on the piano.

Freed, Wiggins, or “Blind Tom” as he was called, toured the country and the world playing for celebrities like Mark Twain and the Queen of England and dazzling audiences everywhere. One part genius and one part novelty act, Blind Tom embodied contradictions – a star and a freak, freed from slavery but still the property of his white guardian. His life offers a window into the culture of celebrity at the turn of the twentieth century.

In this rollicking and heartrending book, O’Connell takes us through the life (and three separate deaths) of Blind Tom Wiggins, restoring to the modern reader this unusual yet quintessentially American life.


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