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 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,
who 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).