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John Davis plays Blind Tom:  Music as Storytelling - February 22 to 27, 2015 - Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Tuskegee & Demopolis 

Thomas Wiggins known as "Blind Tom"Pianist John Davis, a Steinway ArtistThomas Wiggins, born blind and enslaved in 1849, seemed of no value to the Bethunes of Columbus, Georgia, who owned Tom and his mother Charlotte. When Tom, at age 7, sat down at Colonel Bethune's piano and played with perfection the music he heard from the family’s pianists, a "musical prodigy" was born. Popularly known as "Blind Tom," Wiggins toured the opera houses of the South, including Alabama's, and he became the first African-American entertainer to perform in the White House. Tom used piano keys to tell stories and to translate the events of his time, ranging from everyday rainstorms to the sweeping Battle of Manassas.

After emancipation, Tom's guardianship and artistic management were retained by the Bethunes who deprived the autistic pianist of the large profits that his concerts made. Tom died a pauper in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1908, but his legacy survives thanks to his own achievements and to contemporary pianist John Davis of Brooklyn. For Trailfest 2015, with public performances and school concerts from February 22 to 27, 2015, Davis returns the music of "Blind Tom" to the Alabama towns where the groundbreaking pianist originally appeared.

CD cover for "John Davis plays Blind Tom"CD cover for "Halley's Comet"A Julliard graduate and Steinway Artist, John Davis has recorded and released two CDs with Tom's compositions. John Davis plays Blind Tom became a top-ten seller in classical music on Amazon.com and the #1 record on the site's Ragtime chart. The music from the CD inspired Elton John and Bernie Taupin to co-write "The Ballad of Blind Tom" for John's latest release The Diving Board. Within the second CD, Halley's Comet, Davis highlights Tom's compositions with spoken quotes from one of Wiggins's most vocal fans, Mark Twain.

Thomas Wiggins remains a contemporary force. Current African-American novelist Jeffrey Renard Allen novelized Tom's life for Song of the Shank which received a front-page Alabama State Council on the Artsrave review in The New York Times Book Review on June 22, 2014. Tom has been a frequent subject of Alabama writers and historians including James Haskins and Winston Smith of Demopolis. For a schedule of public performances, please visit the Alabama Calendar section of this website.

Primary grant support for the "John Davis plays Blind Tom: Music as Storytelling" and all performances is provided by the ALABAMA STATE COUNCIL ON THE ARTS. Additional grant support is provided by the Alabama Humanities Foundation, a state agency of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).