In post-Reconstruction America, John William “Blind” Boone, an illiterate, itinerant musician, overcame obstacles created by disability, exploitative managers, and racial prejudice to become one of the country’s most beloved concert performers. Melissa Fuell-Cuther’s out-of-print biography, Blind Boone: His Life and Achievements, relates the highlights of Boone’s harrowing journey and also testifies to the struggles of many African Americans during the Jim Crow era.
With the initial publication of the Boone biography in 1915, Fuell-Cuther broke ground as the first American black author to write about the life of a black musician. As a member of Boone’s concert company, she provided firsthand knowledge of Boone’s early years, his career performing tours across the country, and perhaps most importantly, his professional and personal relationship with John Lange, whom many at the time considered the best entertainment manager, black or white, in the country.
The story of Blind Boone is revitalized in this annotated edition of the biography, accompanied by essays describing the Missouri environment in which the artist lived, his place within the landscape of American music, and his achievements after publication of the second edition. Early black performers faced barriers of discrimination with perseverance, resilience, and courage to carve a path for future generations.
One of Missouri’s premier ragtime musicians John William “Blind” Boone led a remarkable life, but his legendary skills as a pianist and entertainer have faded from public memory. Thanks to the insightful offerings of a stellar cast of contributors, this much-needed volume documents Boone’s extraordinary experiences as a celebrated African American musician, reveals the racial injustices of his time and place, and rescues him from undeserved obscurity.
—William E. Foley, Professor Emeritus,
University of Central Missouri
Preface: A Life Retold
Strains from Flat Branch: The Music of Blind Boone—John Davis
A Place and a Time: The Missouri of Blind Boone and John Lange Jr.—Greg Olson and Gary Kremer
Melissa Fuell-Cuther and Blind Boone—Mary Barile and Marilyn Hillsman
Blind Boone: His Early Life and His Achievements—Melissa Fuell-Cuther
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Chapter I. Introductory Chapter
Chapter II. Birth and Early Childhood Days
Chapter III. School Days
Chapter IV. Out in the World
Chapter V. John Lange
Chapter VI. On the Road
Chapter VII. Prof. John William Boone
Chapter VIII. What Others Think of Boone’s Worth
Chapter IX. Concert Reminiscences
Chapter X. Some of Boone’s Songs (Original)
Chapter XI. Instrumental Selections
Chapter XII. Supplement – Boone’s Faithful Manager Dies
Chapter XIII. Peeping Back Then Forward
Chapter XIV. Conclusion – O. M. Shackelford
The Story Continues…Mike Shaw and Christine Montgomery
Selected Chronology: The Life and Times of John William “Blind” Boone and John Lange
Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone, sheds light on the piano prodigy's influence beyond the ragtime genre and looks at the breadth of his performances of ragtime, classical and spiritual music that shaped the music of his time.... The authors were fascinated by the rarity of Melissa Fuell's 1915 biography of Boone and aware of the absence of literature about Boone and the misconception that his contributions were limited to the ragtime genre. Barile and Montgomery set out to revitalize the pianist's story and tell it in a more complete way than it had been told before.
—Missourian, March 12, 2013
... a significant boon to the fields of African American music and disability studies. Mary Collins Barile and Christine Montgomery’s editing and choice of supplementary material straightforwardly bring the Boone story and legacy up to date while Fuell-Cuther’s original test takes us back to a world that we cannot afford to forget.
- Missouri Historical Review, April 2014