From the Publisher
"O'Connell's vivid, carefully researched narrative reflects the tenor of the times, the culture of the Old South, the chaos of emancipation and Blind Tom+s single-minded devotion to his performances."-Publishers Weekly
"Tom's is a story with bottomless complexity, touching on race and sanity and slavery and art. But ultimately, his life makes us think about what it means to be human." -Los Angeles Times
"If you're an avid reader of African American history or a student of early American entertainment, you'll want this book." - Pittsburgh Courier
"Deirdre O'Connell lays out for readers the contradictions of an apparent musical genius who fit into no society." -New Jersey Star Ledger
"The Ballad of Blind Tom is a unique look at America's past through the life of a truly unique American." -Present Magazine, Kansas City
"Deirdre O'Connell writes dynamically enough to fittingly illustrate Wiggins' beautiful and tragic story, from his youth spent entertaining plantation society with his "parlor tricks" to his later days, when he faded into the damning realm of vaudeville."-Colorado Springs Independent
Documentary filmmaker O'Connell recounts the engaging story of slave prodigy, entertainment sensation and national curiosity Blind Tom (1849-1908). The son of slaves, Tom displayed early musical acuity and a fierce attachment to his owners' family piano, amazing onlookers with his ability to emulate music, dialog and sounds in nature; from age five, Tom was entranced by storms, which he could perfectly mimic, and later was able to play two tunes at a time with his back to the keyboard. Classified as an idiot, yet possessed of remarkable skills (including the ability to perform odd athletic feats), Tom's 40-year career enriched his owners and managers, especially as the effects of war and the opening of northern venues broadened Tom's audience (which included famous commentators like Mark Twain). Tom himself, of course, would struggle under the control of others his entire life, culminating sadly in a debilitating, career-ending stroke. O'Connell's vivid, carefully researched narrative reflects the tenor of the times, the culture of the Old South, the chaos of emancipation and Blind Tom's single-minded devotion to his performances.15200Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The story of 19th-century pianist and composer Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins is a complex intersection of American history, music, and culture. Perhaps the most perplexing questions about Wiggins-one that the prevalent racism of the period has made difficult if not impossible to answer-is whether his seeming musical brilliance, combined with his social idiosyncrasies, indicates autism or simply neglect. O'Connell addresses this question but draws no firm conclusions. Her biography is rich in sources but lacks a historian's rigor and is often speculative as to the moods and motivations of both Wiggins-admittedly an enigmatic figure-and those around him. The historical context, which might provide some clues, is presented in a hurried manner, which makes it difficult to construct a clear picture of the world in which the book's central figure lived. Although there are existing examples of Wiggins's music, including the recordings made by John Davis, O'Connell offers no firm opinion on the conflicting reports of the music's quality. Ultimately, one ends the book hardly more informed than when one began. Not recommended.