The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist

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9781590201435: The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist
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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.

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About 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.

From 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.
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