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COMO YOU KNOW: John William "Blind" Boone

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | 7:02 p.m. CDT; updated 7:38 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 9, 2014

CoMo You Know, a community wiki, adds context to stories of local interest and serves as a reference tool for readers.

Summary

John William "Blind" Boone was an influential ragtime pianist and composer who made up Missouri's Big Three of musicians along with Scott Joplin and James Scott.

Factbox

Born May 17, 1864; died Oct. 4, 1927.

Married to Eugenia Lange, the younger sister of his manager, John Lange. The couple had no children.

Full text

John William "Blind" Boone was born to former slave, Rachel Boone, in Saline County on May 17, 1864.

Several months after his birth, John William Boone and his mother moved to Warrensburg where he contracted cerebral meningitis. To alleviate pressure on his brain, doctors had to surgically remove Boone's eyes.

Boone attended the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis when he was 9. Part of the school's curriculum included music lessons. There, Boone learned to play the piano. He quickly discovered that he could remember anything he heard and then play it back exactly as he heard it.

The school stopped allowing Boone and other black students to take music lessons, so Boone started skipping classes to play music in the African American community in St. Louis' nearby "Tenderloin District." The ragged, syncopated rhythms of the district's music is thought to have influenced the development of Boone's style and ragtime music.

After being expelled from school and living on the streets of St. Louis, Boone eventually returned to Warrensburg where he played piano for schools, churches and local bands.

In 1879, when Boone was 15, Boone met John Lange Jr., and the two founded the Blind Boone Touring Company, a traveling entertainment company.

They enlisted other singers and musicians, including Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins, and traveled around the country performing classical, ragtime and jazz music. Wanting to be remembered for his talent, not adversity, Boone coined the company's motto, "Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins."

In 1889, Boone married Lange's younger sister, Eugenia. The couple bought a house at 10 N Fourth St. in Columbia, where it still stands. The house is being refurbished as part of the J.W. "Blind" Boone Heritage Foundation's efforts to restore Boone's legacy.

Boone was the first African American member of Christian College, now Columbia College, and the First Christian Church of Columbia. In 1912, he was one of the first African American artists to be recorded by the QRS piano roll company. His two live performances for Columbia radio station KFRU in 1926 were the station's most popular shows.

Despite his success, Boone was buried without a marker in the black section of Columbia Cemetery after his death in 1927. It was not until 1971 that he and his wife received grave markers.

Now his heritage lives on in Columbia. The J.W. "Blind" Boone Community Center was established in 1961 in his memory and his home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Links and sources

Blind Boone Park website

J.W. "Blind" Boone Heritage Foundation

The State Historical Society of Missouri — Historic Missourians

Updated: June 12, 2012


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