There are stories all over the country that celebrate a piece of history and many of them turn out to be gems. The photo above used to be the home of John W. "Blind" Boone. The home built in 1890 is now owned by the City of Columbia, Missouri. At one time, it was also the Stuart P. Parker Funeral Home. In 1980, the home became listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
John W. "Blind" Boone
John Boone (also called "Willy") used to be a famous ragtime musician. He was the son of a slave. Despite the fact he was blinded as an infant, he grew into a popular pianist. He lived in Columbia where he was loved.
Boone was born in 1864 near Miami, Missouri, and grew up in Warrensburg. He had a surgical procedure performed when he was six months old to remove his eyes due to brain fever (cerebral meningitis) causing swelling in his brain. Interestingly, today, the condition would be treated with antibiotics.
Born during the Civil War, John William 'Blind' Boone overcame poverty, disability, and racism to become a nationally known composer and musician. (Source.)
His hometown raised money to send him to the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis. That's when he learned about the piano. It changed his life. When Bone first arrived, he wasn't interested in learning Braille or how to make brooms for some trade--he was only interested in music.
Throughout his early years, people tried to take advantage of his talent. In 1879, an owner of an entertainment hall in Columbia, John Lange, Jr., hired Boone for his talent. Lange let Boone's mother know that he would make sure her son received care and training. He also said when Boone turned 21, that Boone would be a partner in the Blind Boone Company. In 1889, Boone married Lange's sister.
Boone traveled with musicians. He learned about different types of music. He toured the country and even performed in shows in Mexico and Canada. He was billed as "Blind John." Obviously, Boone played by ear since he couldn't read music.
Many believe his adoption of the “ragged” or syncopated rhythms of the African American community and the heavy bass line of his informal musical compositions inspired the development of ragtime music. (Source.)
Boone was married to Eugenia Lange. In the late 1880s, they purchased a home. After Boone died, their house became a funeral chapel. As it began to deteriorate, renovations began to occur. The house looks close to what it used to look like when Boone was living there. Some of the original woodwork is in the house along with the fireplace, and a curved staircase. There are artifacts and memorabilia in the house.
The more successful Boone became, the more pianos he could afford. He had even had a tour on the east coast. As he approached his 60s, he began having challenges with walking and breathing, so Boone started performing closer to Missouri. On October 4, 1927, he went to visit his step-brother and had a heart attack.
When Boone died, it was discovered most of his wealth was gone. His wife inherited their house and $132.65 which would be $2,079.20 in today's dollars. His belongings including pianos were sold to pay off debt. Click here to take a virtual tour of Boone's home.
In 1991 Lucille Salerno and others inaugurated the Blind Boone Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival, an event that would become a staple of Columbia’s cultural life for a generation, attracting performers from across the U.S. and even Europe. (Source.)
The below video is just a taste of Boone's talent.
Thank you for reading.