- Blind Tom Wiggins
Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins (
May 25, 1849– June 13, 1908) was an African American autistic savantand musical prodigy on the piano.
Wiggins was born on the Wiley Edward Jones Plantation in
Harris County, Georgia. Born blind, he was sold in 1850 along with his slave parents, Charity and Mingo Wiggins, to Columbus, Georgia lawyer, Colonel James N. Bethune. [ [http://chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/Wiggins.html#1 Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins, African American Pianist] ; retrieved February 2007] The new owner gave the boy the name Thomas Greene Bethune or Thomas Wiggins Bethune (according to different sources).
Because he could not work, Blind Tom wandered around the Bethune
plantationoften and became interested in the music played by Bethune's daughters. He is reported to have played tunes he had heard at the age of four, before he had learned to speak. At the age of five, he composed a tune, "The Rain Storm". Bethune hired professional musicians to play for the boy, and Tom could perfectly reproduce the music he had heard. Although Tom's vocabulary was only about 100 words, eventually he learned perhaps 7,000 pieces of music, mainly from classical composers.
In 1857, Blind Tom made his first concert in Columbus, Georgia. Newspaper reviews were favorable, so General Bethune took Tom with him on tour. Tom referred to himself in the third person (e.g., "Tom is pleased to meet you"). In 1860, Blind Tom played in the
White Housebefore President James Buchanan. Local musicians wanted to check if his act was mere trickery and made him repeat two brand-new compositions. He did so perfectly. The "challenge" later became a regular part of his performance.
Tom also played his own compositions on occasion. One of the regulars at his concerts was
Mark Twain. In 1866, at the age of 16, Tom went on a world tour.
After the death of General Bethune, the care of Tom was transferred to Bethune's son John. After John died in 1883, Tom retired but had a series of concerts in
New York Cityin 1904 before going back into retirement.
Blind Tom died in 1908 in Hoboken,
New Jerseyand was buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreensin Brooklyn, New York. The people of Columbus, Georgia, raised a commemorative headstone for him in 1976. Later he was the subject of a play titled "HUSH: Composing Blind Tom Wiggins", which was performed on the Atlanta stage with Del Hamilton as director. In 1999 John Davis tried to revive his music with the CD "John Davis Plays Blind Tom." He loved to sing.
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