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The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist Hardcover – February 5, 2009
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"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
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The story of his life has all the elements of a great tale with social and political implications for today. This book is charming, balancing moments of conjecture with chronological descriptions of Blind Tom's stellar and in some ways unparalleled career. Abundant quotes demonstrating people's responses to Blind Tom's performances, as well as entertaining explanations of his style, his music, and his unique brand of showmanship make this book read like a novel. Add to these are plenty of enjoyable stories of Tom, Tom's music, and the obviously deep appreciation of his talents by the thousands who experienced his concerts.
Although this book presents information objectively, there is an underpinning of emotional content that cannot be ignored. The reader finds himself sympathizing with many of the characters, especially Blind Tom himself, and being confused with the multitude of motives behind the events of his life. Should Tom have been returned to his mother? Should or could Tom have been given more independence? Should the legal system have done something different? Is greed the primary motivation behind most exploitation? Are we guilty historically for not understanding the disabled and how to manage their problems as well as their gifts?
On several other levels, the story of Blind Tom's life is a story of slavery, racism, greed, selfishness, autism, disabilities, responsibility, human frailty, and the constant societal appeal for the brilliant and the bizarre. The book also provides insights into our history after the Civil War and the rise of the entertainment industry. Especially enjoyable are the plethora of historical figures involved in various ways in Blind Tom's career. Aside from some confusing data surrounding the music that bears his name and some hints of a personality disorder that is hard to understand, I found this book to one of the finest of its kind and worth reading by everyone. We should be very appreciative of the scholarship that went into this book, a book that deserves to be read by musicians, historians, politicians, lawyers, and teachers.
Before now anyone who has heard of Blind Tom thought him to be just an idiot savant.
Through Ms. O'Connell's work we realize he was so much more. Just imagine what
he could have become if he had been allowed to expand his marvelous gifts!
She also lets us into his private life----the life he lead away from the stage.
This book is so worth any reading of it.