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CXVIII.

“BLIND TOM.” (THOMAS GREEN BETHUNE.)

        The Musical Wonder of the Age–The Negro Pianist–A Remarkable Musician.

        THE musical world for centuries has known such great composers as Mendelssohn, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, but far surpassing these may be named the poor little Negro boy, Thomas Bethune, born May 25, 1849, in Columbus, Georgia. Thomas was born blind and as the beauties of nature could only be revealed to him through the sense of hearing, and retained by the power of memory and imitation, these faculties were cultivated almost to perfection.

Young Bethune is the embodiment of music, and in this art his powers know no limits. When he was four years old he had, for the first time, access to a piano; and although previously he had produced with his voice the harmonious and discordant strains that met his ears, yet his joy cannot be imagined when he could perform on the instrument the thoughts of his youthful brain. When he had exhausted his store of lessons he began to compose for himself, playing what he said “the wind said,” or the trees or birds. His “Rain Storm,” composed during a


Illustration

THOMAS BETHUNE. (Blind Tom.)


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thunder-storm when Tom was but five years, is so perfect that the hearer instinctively looks for the lightning flash.

No one would ever undertake to teach him music, for, said one musician, “I can’t teach him anything; he knows more of music than we know or can know. We can learn all that great genius can reduce to rule and put in tangible form; he knows more than that. I do not even know what it is; but I feel it is something beyond my comprehension. All that can be done for him will be to let him hear fine playing; he will work it all out by himself after awhile.” The above quotation was clipped from ‘Music and Some Highly Musical People,’ by J. M. Trotter.

Thomas Bethune received the cognomen. “Blind Tom” because when he was a babe he seemed totally blind but as he grew, nature was his teacher and enabled him in time to enjoy to a limited extent the blessing of sight. When a young child, often might he be seen with head upturned, gazing intently upon the sun, and he would thrust his fingers with such force into his eyes that they would bleed. This he continued until he became able to distinguish any very bright object and as his sight grows clearer with years it is hoped he will yet be relieved from the bondage of darkness. Says Mr. Trotter:

Considering that in early life he learned nothing, and later but little from sight, that he is possessed by an overmastering passion which so pervades his whole nature as to leave little room for interest in anything else, and the gratification of which has been indulged to the largest extent, it is not surprising that to the outside world he should exhibit but few manifestations of intellect as applicable to any of the ordinary affairs of life, or that those who see him only under its influence should conclude that he is idiotic.


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The elegance, taste and power of his performances, his wonderful power of imitation, his extraordinary memory not only of names, dates and events, his strict adherence to what he believes to be right, his uniform politeness, and his nice sense of propriety, afford to those who know him well ample refutation of this opinion.

As to the musical genius of this man the testimony of eminent musicians both in America and Europe bears witness. Among his classical selections may be mentioned Andante by Mendelssohn and Sonata “Pathetique” by Beethoven.

His marches include, “Delta Kappa Epsilon,” Pease; “Grand March de Concert,” Wallace; “General Ripley’s March,” Amazon March, Masonic Grand March.

His imitations must not be omitted which are so perfect as often to deceive the hearer. They are imitations of the “Music Box,” “Dutch Woman and Hand Organ,” “Harp,” “Scotch Bagpipes,” “Scotch Fiddler,” “Church Organ,” “Guitar,” “Banjo,” “Douglass’ Speech,” “Uncle Charlie,” “The Cascade,” “Rain Storm,” and “Battle of Manassas.” The two latter, his own composition, represent his descriptive music.

It would take volumes to say all that might be said of this man. His fame is world-wide. In all the large cities of America and Europe has he entertained thousands. Doubtless more persons have flocked to see and hear him than any other living wonder.

His mother has endeavored to secure some of the benefits derived from the results of his extraordinary genius and began a lawsuit which resulted in a total failure. Blind


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Tom is still alive and recently gave a very brilliant concert in Indiana. As he grows older he increases his list of music and performs with the vigor of youth.

Says Mr. Trotter:

No one lives, or, as far as we know, has ever lived that can at all be compared with him. Only the musical heroes of mythology remind us of him for he is
“As sweet and musical
As bright Apollo’s lute strung with his hair.”

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