John William "Blind" Boone was a classical and ragtime composer and pianist. He settled in Columbia in 1889. Boone was born in 1864 and became blind when he was 6 months old. He was very ill, and 19th century doctors diagnosed him with brain fever. They thought the only cure was to remove his eyes.
Boone showed an affinity for music early on. At age 5, he would imitate
the sounds of animals while banging on a tin pan to accompany himself.
He later went on to the St. Louis School for the Blind (at the time
was known as the Missouri Institute for the Education of the Blind).
Boone learned to play the piano at school and became well-known for his
The school soon became segregated, and, because Boone was black, he was ostracized. Feeling left out and alone, Boone would sneak out to hear ragtime in St. Louis. This deviant behavior led to his expulsion.
A series of performances brought Boone out into the roots music scene. His music has been revived in Columbia through the "Blind" Boone Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival each June.