"Blind Tom." [Bethune, Thomas. or Wiggins, Thomas.] (1849–1908)
Songs, Sketch of the Life ... of Blind Tom the Marvelous Musical Prodigy, the Negro Boy Pianist.
Baltimore: The Sun Book and Job Printing Establishment. c. 1876.
Songs, Sketch of the Life, Testimonials from the Most Eminent Composers, and Opinions of the American and English Press of Blind Tom, the Marvelous Musical Prodigy, the Negro Boy Pianist, who recent performances at the Great St. James and Egyptian Halls, London, and Salle Hertz, Paris, have Created such a Profound Sensation. 30 pp. 8vo (230 x 145 mm). Original printed wrappers. Pages toned, corners bumped, some chipping and loss to edges and spine.
"Blind Tom" Wiggins (1847-1908) was born into slavery in Georgia. He showed an early aptitude for the piano, and was able to replicate songs, and even speeches, verbatim after only one listen. (Contemporary scholars suspect that today, Tom would likely be diagnosed as on the autism spectrum.) As a young man, he began touring the country, becoming one of the best known and highest paid performing pianists in America.
Mark Twain, a great enthusiast for Tom's playing, wrote in 1869 that Tom "lorded it over the emotions of his audience like an autocrat. He swept them like a storm, with his battle-pieces; he lulled them to rest again with melodies as tender as those we hear in dreams; he gladdened them with others that rippled through the charmed air as happily and cheerily as the riot the linnets make in California woods; and now and then he threw in queer imitations of the tuning of discordant harps and fiddles, and the groaning and wheezing of bag-pipes, that sent the rapt silence into tempests of laughter. And every time the audience applauded when a piece was finished, this happy innocent joined in and clapped his hands, too, and with vigorous emphasis...Some archangel, cast out of upper Heaven like another Satan, inhabits this coarse casket; and he comforts himself and makes his prison beautiful with thoughts and dreams and memories of another time... It is not Blind Tom that does these wonderful things and plays this wonderful music--it is the other party."