Blind Boone in Concert

February is Black History Month and it seems appropriate to recognize the work of a black musician whose work helped to establish ragtime as an American musical form and influenced the emergence of jazz.

 John William “Blind” Boone (1864-1927) was an accomplished composer and performer of ragtime music and even composed a contemporary opera. His father was a Union Army musician and his mother was a runaway slave of the Daniel Boone family. Although blind from the age of three when his eyes were removed to cure what was diagnosed as brain fever, Boone was a self-taught musician who never received the acclaim his work deserved. Some of his music performed by modern artists is available on CD.

The year was 1915 when my grandfather, William Henry Baird, saddled his horse and rode from his homestead into Anselmo, Nebraska to hear Blind Boone in concert. My grandfather’s program, and a contemporary biography of Boone by Melissa Fuell which he purchased that evening, now reside in my personal library.

It wasn’t too often
that musicians came to town
but when they did show up
people came from all around.

So Grandpa rode to town
to hear Blind Boone a’playing
the blend of folk and black
his music was portraying.

Boone was pretty special,
him being so blind and all,
a self-taught ragtime man
whose folk music could enthrall.

Play any tune for him
and he’d play it back by ear
as well as his own music
that folks had come to hear.

He’d load his piano
onto a worn old buckboard
and go from town to town
to play music folks adored.

Yes, he was a black man,
born at a time of great strife,
o rose far above it
to bring his music to life.

He’d conquered loss of sight
and his talent was set free…
a true entertainer
even though he couldn’t see.

Grandpa was rewarded
and remembered all his days
of hearing Blind Boone play
and forever voiced his praise.

The poem first appeared in the book Sun, Sand & Soapweed
by Clark Crouch (Western Poetry Publications, 2005).

 

February 12, 1809

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, and Charles Darwin, a scientist whose work underlies the study of biology today, were both born on February 12, 1809. The lives of both remain influential in our own lives, even now, 208 years after their birth.

They were an odd couple, these two,
both born on the same day,
each one destined to change the world
as he went his own way.

One to lead this nation of ours
in times of awful stress,
reuniting our government
and givin’ folks redress.

The other really stretched our thoughts
with scientific mind
in his search for the origins
of species God designed.

Yes, an odd couple – Abe and Charles…
radicals, if you will,
who so influenced life and thought
results are with us still.

Reprinted from Views from the Saddle, winner of the
2010 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Cowboy Poetry.