The Blind Former Slave Who Became One Of The Most Famous Musicians In The United States
Tom Wiggins, also known as “Blind Tom,” became an international celebrity due to his amazing musical talent
For millions of people who were slaves in the United States, navigating their lives were filled with untold horrors, deprivations and challenges. For someone like Tom Wiggins, who was born blind and into bondage, things were even harder. However, “Blind Tom,” as he came to be called, despite being taken advantage of persevered and became one of the most famous musicians in the country at the height of his career.
In 1849, Tom was born in Georgia to his enslaved parents, Charity and Domingo Wiggins. The following year, the three of them were sold to a Georgia newspaper editor and lawyer named General James Neil Bethune, who later became well known for being the first editor to publicly call for Southern secession from the Union leading up to the Civil War.
Sadly, it could be considered remarkable that Tom was sold with his parents, as he was unable to work because of his blindness. His mother had pled for her family to be kept together and the wish was honored. When he was old enough to be left alone, he typically spent days by himself or with other young children. He developed a strong interest in sound, particularly music. Curious about the different tones and notes that he heard, he would imitate those sounds, ranging from animals to pulling furniture across wooden floors. While he had an exquisite ear, later able to recite entire 10-minute conversations verbatim, he was largely uncommunicative otherwise, expressing himself with hand gestures and guttural noises.
When it came to music, Tom became particularly interested in the piano after hearing Bethune’s children playing the instrument. Since he seemed to have a talent, he was permitted to also play. It was said that by the age of four he was able to play some piano purely by ear. Just a year later he was credited with composing his first song after hearing heavy rains pelt down on his family’s roof, which he called The Rain Storm.
After Bethune discovered that Tom was a musical prodigy, he moved the boy into a small room with a piano in his…