The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist

O'Connell Deirdre - Author

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ISBN 9781468305951 | 272 pages | 05 Feb 2009 | Overlook | 18 - AND UP
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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.

The Ballad Of Blind Tom Fragments

Part One: The Seen and the Unseen

1. A Woman of Good Breeding
2. Every Inch a Southern Gentleman
3. No Ordinary Child
4. Unwritten Legend
5. Second Sight
6. Star of the Musical World
7. The Showman & the Magician
8. She Used to Wash My Face

Part Two: "Franatics"

9. Some Fellow Might Steal Me
10. Thunder of War
11. Home Sweet Home
12. Fiah Up De Engines!
13. Yankee Justice

Part Three: Clangorous Agonies

14. The Great Musical Mystery
15. Heavenly Tones
16. Perpetual Motion
17. The Things Revealed

Part Four: Fellow Beings

18. The Last American Slave
19. "Tom Is Non Compos Mentis"
20. Netherworld
21. Thunderstorm Requiem

Epilogue: The Real Blind Tom

"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 TomÕs 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

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