Born on this day, musical genius, Thomas Greene Wiggins, known as “Blind Tom.” After the purchase of his parents by U.S. Colonel Neil Bethune, Wiggins was given out as a discount due to his blindness.
From his infancy, Wiggins manifested an extraordinary ability to compose sounds. Bethune’s family learned about the boy’s gifts and Mary Bethune, a daughter to Colonel Neil Bethune, decided to teach Wiggins how to sing and play the piano.
At the age of eight, Wiggins was hired out to other masters to perform in public concerts in cities throughout Georgia, such as Atlanta, Macon, and Athens. During the Civil War, with fear of possible threat from freed slaves, James Bethune was forced to sign an agreement with Wiggins’ parents to stay with the blind boy for five years.
After many years of exploitation by both the Bethune family and his managers, Wiggins died a penniless black man despite his exceptional retentive skills as a pianist, a singer and a composer. He died on June 13, 1908, at Eliza Bethune’s home at the age of 59.