×

Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist: America's Lost Musical Genius
  • Alternative view 1 of Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist: America's Lost Musical Genius
  • Alternative view 2 of Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist: America's Lost Musical Genius
     

Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist: America's Lost Musical Genius

by Deirdre O'Connell
 

See All Formats & Editions

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

Overview

The true story of a black musical savant in the era of slavery.
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.
Eventually freed from slavery, 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 and racism 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.

Editorial Reviews

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

Publishers Weekly

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.15200

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

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.
—Genevieve Williams

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590201435
Publisher:
The Overlook Press
Publication date:
02/05/2009
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,135,709
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Deirdre O'Connell was born and educated in Australia and has lived in Britain and the United States. Having made documentaries for the Jimi Hendrix Estate and United Nations Environment Program, she now works in news at SBS Australia and in community cultural development.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews