Wednesday, January 21, 2009
THE BALLAD OF BLIND TOM Reviewed in Publishers Weekly
Deirdre O'Connell's riveting biography of Blind Tom Wiggins earns praise from Publishers Weekly: "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."