COLUMBIA — "I regard my blindness as a blessing," ragtime composer and pianist J.W. "Blind" Boone supposedly said, "for had I not been blind, I would not have given the inspiration to the world that I have."
Boone's music will be remembered in a concert at MU on Saturday to benefit the restoration of his former Columbia home.
WHAT: The John Davis Caravan: Standing at the Crossroads
WHERE: Jesse Auditorium, MU
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
ADMISSION: Tickets are available at a variety of prices, including $10 for children 12 and younger and topping at $103, which includes a "Speakeasy" reception before the performance.
The performer, pianist John Davis, was immersed in black culture as a child and since 1998 has researched roots music, music that precedes rhythm and blues. Davis found Boone while he was trying to find unusual pieces for a concert, first discovering "Blind Tom" Wiggins, a black pianist, and then Boone.
"These two people are sort of a forgotten link to earlier music and music that comes afterwards, like jazz and ragtime," Davis said.
Born in Warrensburg in 1864, Boone lost his sight when his eyes were removed to cure brain fever, which is an inflammation of the brain, when he was 6 months old. He moved to Columbia as an adult, and although he traveled to perform, he made Columbia his home and is buried at the Columbia Cemetery.
Since his quest to find the lost compositions of the two artists began, Davis has traveled widely, going south to Georgia and Virginia, north to New York and west to Missouri, and scouring the libraries and collections of private individuals.
Now, Davis, who is based in New York City, is continuing his mission to bring Boone to public consciousness and a rightful place in American music history.
Davis said he became involved with the restoration project for the Blind Boone home when he played at the "Blind" Boone Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival in June. He appreciates Boone not only as a ragtime artist but as a classical composer as well. "It's a form of classical music that is previously unacknowledged roots music," Davis said.
Lucille Salerno, president emerita of the John William Boone Heritage Foundation, hopes to restore Boone's reputation by restoring his home. Since the restoration project began in 1997, about $230,000 has been raised to repair the crumbling structure and foundation of the home, she said.
Now, Salerno said she hopes the concert will be an opportunity to raise the public's awareness of Boone's contributions and the restoration project's need for funds. After more events, Salerno said enough funds will be raised to bring the house back to its original beauty. The "Blind" Boone home will go through a historical restoration, meaning that all repairs made will have to be a true reconstruction of what had existed. After it is restored, the house will become a museum that will showcase the Boone era with displays showing the development of American music.
Although Salerno recognizes that the harsh economic climate isn't conducive to raising money, she said events will be held until the "Blind" Boone home is restored. "It falls to the pride of citizens who really understand the value of the home to raise the money," Salerno said.
Davis said he hopes Boone's music resonates with the audience, in particular his classical compositions, which make up the majority of his work. Davis said he's excited to serve as "the conduit between 'Blind' Boone and today's public."
He wants to expose people to forgotten figures and fill a gap in American music. "The music is crucial," he said. "It all starts with the music."