“Blind Wizard of the Piano”


W. L. Germon’s Temple of Art, [Thomas Wiggins], ca. 1865 (823.1990)

“Academy of Music Phila[delphia] Dec 28th [18]65
Blind Tom played Yankee Doodle with his
right hand – Fishers Hornpipe with his left.
and sang Tramp, Tramp, all at the same time
In response to the Encore which
his performance occasioned, He said
Ladies and Gentleman… I will now play for you
Yankee Doodle with my right hand and
… With my left, and I wish it dis-
tinctly understood that Yankee Doodle
on top…”
(Words on the back of the photo.)

Unfortunately this carte de visite has been misguggled a bit, and the edges are trimmed, nevertheless, it’s exciting to read a presumably first hand account of a Blind Tom performance on December 28th, 1865, at the eight year old Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

The inspiration for this post was an edifying conversation between Jeffery Renard Allen, the author of a new novel, Song of the Shank, and Leonard Lopate on WNYC.

Fortunately the web is awash in great Blind Tom resources:

Who was Blind Tom? Blindtom.org

twainquotes.com The Story of Thomas Bethune also known as Thomas Wiggins also known as “Blind Tom.”

“Wagner. Yes. Wagner. Mr. Wagner. Richard Wagner. Wagner. Mr. Wagner is is dead. Yes. He is dead. Dead. His last opera. Yes. His opera. His last opera was “Parisfal.’ His last opera.” “Blind Tom As He Is To-Day” Ladies Home Journal, September 1898.

Pianist John Davis Plays Blind Tom.”
“More popularly known as Blind Tom, Wiggins was the first black superstar performer in America, this country’s first documented outsider artist, and the first in a long line of African-American musicians, including many of the bluesmen that followed, to have been canonized in life and marginalized and all but forgotten in death.” johndavispianist.com/blindtom

Blind Tom’s Battle of Manassas can be heard here and here.

Several versions of the Civil War song Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! can be heard here.
Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (The Prisoner’s Hope) (Wikipedia)
“In the prison cell I sit,
Thinking Mother dear, of you,
And our bright and happy home so far away,
And the tears they fill my eyes
Spite of all that I can do,
Tho’ I try to cheer my comrades and be gay.
Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come,
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the freeland in our own beloved home”

W. L. Germon’s Temple of Art was here.

Not surprisingly Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library have three Blind Tom objects online.

Blind Tom on youtube: Blind Tom, Slave Pianist & Autistic Savant

“On Blind Tom, Essence of Creativity, Autism and Jazz,” by Hrayr Attarian on allaboutjazz.com

Blind Tom came out of retirement in December 1903 to perform at the Orpheum in Brooklyn, (as reported in this PDF from the NY Times).

New Yorker piece on Blind Tom, from July 2002, written by Elizabeth Kolbert.

“Where is Blind Tom Buried? – twainquotes.com

Thomas Wiggins is (presumably) buried in Brooklyn, in the Evergreens Cemetery (as is Lester Young!!!).

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