Hidden History: ‘Blind Tom,’ black music composer with disabilities inspired many

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Thomas Wiggins Greene was a slave who was born blind and mentally challenged in Columbus, Georgia in 1856. The world came to know him as ‘Blind Tom,’ a piano and music prodigy.

It’s possible that Greene was autistic, but despite his challenges, he composed over a thousand compositions.

At 3-years-old, while playing in the slave master’s house, Greene found a piano and played a piece.

By age 5, Greene was performing for audiences around the world.


The musical prodigy title was an apparent title for what he could do, he could play two melodies at once, which astounded audiences.

Greene’s most famous piece was ‘The Battle of Manassas.’

Greene heard his slave owner’s son describe the confederate victory at Bull Run and deciphered it on the ivory keys, dramatizing the sound of marching soldiers and booming cannons.

At the time, whites thought Greene’s music was supporting the confederate army and other slaves thought he was a traitor.

After more than 40 years on stage, Greene died in 1908 at the age of 59.

Although hidden in history, Greene’s music is still felt today.

‘Blind Tom’ laid the ground work for jazz music as well as jazz influences in hip hop music, so there’s a continuity of cultural tradition values and beliefs.

Greene lived before audio or video recording came about and never wrote his music down. But his story of overcoming disabilities is the subject of a book called ‘The Ballad of Blind Tom.’

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