(From http://www.twainquotes.com) In 1869 Tom’s path crossed that of Mark Twain who was traveling across the country on his own lecture tour. Twain, who was also writing for the San Francisco Alta California newspaper, reported that he attended Tom’s concert three nights in succession. From Mark Twain’s first hand account of Tom’s performance:

“He lorded it over the emotions of his audience like an autocrat. He swept them like a storm, with his battle-pieces; he lulled them to rest again with melodies as tender as those we hear in dreams; he gladdened them with others that rippled through the charmed air as happily and cheerily as the riot the linnets make in California woods; and now and then he threw in queer imitations of the tuning of discordant harps and fiddles, and the groaning and wheezing of bag-pipes, that sent the rapt silence into tempests of laughter. And every time the audience applauded when a piece was finished, this happy innocent joined in and clapped his hands, too, and with vigorous emphasis.”

Twain concluded his impressions of Blind Tom by writing:

“Some archangel, cast out of upper Heaven like another Satan, inhabits this coarse casket; and he comforts himself and makes his prison beautiful with thoughts and dreams and memories of another time… It is not Blind Tom that does these wonderful things and plays this wonderful music–it is the other party.”

In 1875, Twain again spoke of Tom’s uncanny abilities in a humorous speech he made on the art of spelling. The text of Twain’s speech appeared in the Hartford Courant May 13, 1875 and cites Twain as quipping:

Now there is Blind Tom, the musical prodigy. He always spells a word according to the sound that is carried to his ear. And he is an enthusiast in orthography. When you give him a word, he shouts it out–puts all his soul into it. I once heard him called upon to spell orangutang before an audience. He said, “O, r-a-n-g, orang, g-e-r, ger, oranger, t-a-n-g, tang, orangger tang!” Now a body can respect an orangutang that spells his name in a vigorous way like that.

Twain maintained an ongoing interest in Blind Tom’s abilities. His personal notebooks reflect occasional entries of the words “Blind Tom” indicating that he may have planned to see more of Tom’s performances whenever the opportunity arose. In book editor Henry Holt’s autobiography titled Garrulities of an Octogenarian Editor (published by Houghton Mifflin Co., 1923) Holt recalled being with Twain one day in Washington DC in 1885:

The afternoon of that day in Washington was drizzly, and he and I took a constitutional under the same umbrella. He was most of the time talking about Blind Tom, a famous half-idiotic Negro pianist of those days. Mark said he never missed an opportunity to hear him. Tom, it appears, used to soliloquize about himself and his music, and Mark’s memory was full of his quaint sayings, of which Mark poured out a stream to me, and so vividly that I can’t tell today whether I ever saw and heard Tom, or whether my imagination has constructed him from Mark’s account.

Twain again wrote about Blind Tom in 1897. In Chapter Two of Following the Equator, the book that documented Twain’s around the world journey, he wrote:

The talk passed from the boomerang to dreams – usually a fruitful subject, afloat or ashore – but this time the output was poor. Then it passed to instances of extraordinary memory – with better results. Blind Tom, the negro pianist, was spoken of, and it was said that he could accurately play any piece of music, howsoever long and difficult, after hearing it once; and that six months later he could accurately play it again, without having touched it in the interval.

Blind Tom piano

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