John W. 'Blind' Boone Piano

The 1889 Chickering piano once owned by John W. “Blind” Boone sits in a Virginia showroom. Its history was traced back to the ragtime musician this year before the Boone Heritage Foundation learned about it.

In early October, a man named Markus Still wandered into a piano store in Lightfoot, Virginia, where he was immediately taken with a hand-crafted, antique Chickering parlor grand piano.

It had been sitting in the store’s show window for 15 years.

After tracing the history of the piano through a series of the Chickering & Sons assembly logs online, Still discovered that it had been commissioned in 1889 for a musician — John William “Blind” Boone.

On Monday night, the City Council considered a request from the John William Boone Heritage Foundation to appropriate $7,500 plus $850 for shipping in public funds to purchase the piano during a first read at its Monday meeting.

The total cost of the piano is $15,000, with the remainder to be funded through the foundation.

Until October, the ornately designed Chickering grand at the Boone County Historical Society was thought to be the only piano the Missouri-born composer had ever owned.

“We accidentally stumbled on this piano,” said Greg Olson, the secretary of the board of directors of the John William Boone Heritage Foundation. “Nobody gave much consideration to the fact that there may had been more pianos.”

Olson noted that the piano was likely to have been kept in Boone’s downtown Columbia home and it may have gone on tour with him.

“Blind” Boone was a well-known musician, composer and iconic figure in the African American community in Columbia and a nationally recognized artist across the United States, according to the State Historical Society of Missouri.

The Blind Boone Home is a two-story Victorian house in the heart of downtown where the musician lived. It has been converted into a museum to pay tribute to his legacy and educate people about his influence.

When Still connected the pieces of the puzzle indicating that the piano was part of Boone’s legacy, he alerted the Boone Heritage Foundation about the discovery, even though he had intended to purchase the piano for himself.

Still also worked with John Davis, a New York pianist who recorded an album of Boone’s music, to verify the piano’s authenticity.

“We see this as a once-in-a-lifetime thing because nobody knew there was a second piano out there which had belonged to Boone,” Olson said.

Once the piano was legitimized, the foundation sent a deposit to hold the piano while they requested supplementary funds from the Columbia City Council to complete the purchase. Once the piano is sold, it will be installed in the Blind Boone Home on North Fourth Street in Columbia, said Clyde Ruffin, the president of the foundation.

“We thought it was a really good community function to bring the artifact back to Columbia,” said Sarah Dresser, manager of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, clearly pleased about the discovery of the second piano in Boone’s collection.

Dresser explained that funds are available in several of the city department’s budgets, which will combine to supplement the foundation’s deposit and bring this historical piano back to Columbia.

The 131-year-old piano has been restored and is fully functional despite its age. The foundation envisions both amateur and professional musicians playing it for recitals and concert series when it is set up in the Blind Boone Home.

“It seems like everything aligned to bring the piano back to Columbia and enhance the property that serves as a great historic center for the African American community and for Columbia’s history,” Dresser said.

Olson said that it is the foundation’s mission to preserve Boone’s legacy, which is captured partly by heirlooms like the Chickering pianos he played throughout his 45 year career.

  • Public life reporter, fall 2020. Studying magazine/environmental journalism. Reach me at cperrett@mail.missouri.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5720

  • As managing editor, I work with the staff to put together a daily report that reflects what happens in the community, what people are talking about and what issues engage them. Email: abbottjm@missouri.edu; phone: 573-882-4164.

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