Blind Boone

History

One hundred years ago, the two-story Victorian house at 10 N. 4th Street was home to one of the world’s most famous musicians, John W. “Blind” Boone. In his lifetime, he overcame blindness, poverty and discrimination to become an amazing composer and concert pianist. Along with Scott Joplin and James Scott, Boone made up Missouri’s Big Three, the most influential musicians in the state known as the home of ragtime, the precursor of jazz.

Boone, the son of a former slave and a Union Army bugler, was born in 1864, in the waning days of the Civil War. As a small child he developed a fever, and his physician surgically removed his eyes in order to alleviate pressure on his brain, leaving him blind. Despite this handicap, his musical talent manifested early with an incredible ability to recreate sounds and tunes on a variety of hand instruments; he later graduated to the piano.

Under the management of John Lange, Boone became a famous pianist, touring across the U.S. and playing to packed houses. His style alternated between classical and ragtime/early jazz. His groundbreaking compositions influenced a number of artists and helped create the ragtime/early jazz genre.

During his lifetime Boone was a committed philanthropist who supported local causes and opened his home to the community. He donated generously to several churches, and gave his time and talents to local youth. He was beloved in Columbia and around the country, and was an inspiration to those who knew him. His philosophy “Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins” is as valuable a lesson today as it was in his time.

In his later years, after the death of John Lange, Boone’s popularity began to wane but he continued his philanthropic work. He gave away most of his fortune, having no children to leave an inheritance. He and his wife were buried in unmarked graves, and remained there until 1971 when markers were finally placed. Sadly, his legacy has been largely lost to time.