Taking a quick look at "Blind" Boone's life

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 | 7:08 p.m. CST; updated 10:55 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 12, 2008

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 dexterity.

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.

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Thomas Miller November 13, 2008 | 10:41 a.m.

To learn more about the life of "Blind" Boone and his music, visit the Western Historical Manuscript Collection (WHMC) in Ellis Library on the University of Missouri campus. Original papers related to Boone, including publicity materials, programs, contracts, photographs, sheet music and piano rolls, are accessible to the public for free. Call 882-6028 for information.

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