The song known as “Dixie” can be a grim, and even hurtful reminder of America’s dark past, but for one enslaved Afro-American, that tune was the source of inspiration, hope, and a musical career that few other enslaved individuals could ever experience. My name’s Garrett McQueen, and today I’d like to tell you a little about someone remembered as Blind Tom Wiggins.

He was born back in May of 1849, and was sold the following year, along with his enslaved parents. Because he was born blind, he wasn’t expected to perform the same duties as other enslaved Afro-Americans, so he was left to simply explore the plantation. Well those explorations eventually led him to the piano.

He showed interest and talent from a very early age, and as he grew up, he was known to replicate what he heard around him on the piano. This work, titled “Battle of Manassas”, is supposed to sound like a marching military band – maybe you can hear what Blind Tom was going for.

As you can imagine, the details of Tom’s life were quite gruesome, considering the state of America, but despite slavery and the challenge of being born blind, Tom Wiggins’ musical abilities make him not only one of America’s most fascinating historical figures, but also, one of the most NoteWorthy of American composers.

Noteworthy is a production of WDAV classical public radio.

Pictured: Blind Tom Wiggins holding a copy of his first musical composition, The Rain Storm.