This Black Musician Didn’t Allow Blindness and Neurodivergence Stop Him

headstone for thomas wiggins
Via Flickr
Alyssa Guzik
June 27, 2024

Born into slavery in 1849, Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins had an extraordinary ability to play piano, memorize conversations, and emulate sounds.  His gifts were quickly recognized by his owner, who exploited the child by dragging him around the country to play piano and perform on demand. Given Tom’s blindness, possible neurodivergence, and developmental delays, his life was unusually hard.

When he was five, Wiggins composed his first piece of music.  After a frightening thunderstorm pounded the metal roof of his quarters, Tom sat at a piano and reproduced the sounds he had heard.

Wiggins created stirring compositions that showcased his raw talent and emotional depth despite being exploited throughout his life. When he was only 11, he became the first Black musician to play at the White House.

His hauntingly beautiful and deeply complex compositions reflected his tumultuous world.  From delicate melodies evoking love lost to thunderous crescendos echoing the violence of the Civil War, Wiggins’  pieces were also a window into his soul.

Despite his vulnerabilities and the relentless exploitation of his talent even after obtaining freedom, Wiggins’ genius earned him international acclaim as a musical genius. His remarkable music speaks volumes about his indomitable spirit and resilience. His life and legacy are a testament to the power of human potential and an inspiration for future generations.