- Geneva H. Southall
Blind Tom (25 May 1849–13 June 1908), pianist and composer, was born Thomas Grimes in Harris County, Georgia, the son of Mingo Wiggins and Charity, slaves on the Wiley Jones plantation. His first master’s teenage daughter named him “Grimes” for an admirer of hers. Blind from birth, he was included when James N. Bethune, a Columbus, Georgia, lawyer-journalist who was referred to as either “Colonel” or “General” Bethune because of his service in the Georgia militia in 1830, purchased Tom’s parents in 1850. According to most accounts, Tom demonstrated his aptitude for music at age four, when he slipped into the big house and picked out several tunes on the piano he had heard Bethune’s daughters playing. Thereafter he was allowed access to the piano and received informal instruction from Bethune’s wife and daughter. When professional performers gave concerts in Columbus, the Bethunes hired them to play for Tom, thus enabling him to increase his repertoire. By his sixth birthday Tom had become a “prized possession,” with Bethune’s children exhibiting him to their neighbors....