We explore the Life and Legacy of “Blind Boone.” Considered one of the most skilled pianists who ever lived, Boone synthesized traditional African melodies with European Classical to form a piece of wholly original music called “Ragtime.” Many of his compositions are so musically complex they have never able to be performed after his passing.
Unlike his younger contemporary Scott Joplin, Boone chose not to publish many of his works. He considered himself a live performer first and foremost. Those who saw him perform live wrote rapturous reviews of his musical prowess. Reviewers often said things like they thought the piano might burst into flames, or fly away due to the speed in which Boone played. People marveled how he could play so skillfully and not miss a note and the feverish manner which his hands raced across the keys. Some even said it had to be God or the Devil that gave him such skills no mere mortal could play like that. People paid good money to see him perform. He played sold out venues throughout the world and adjusted in today’s money Boone made over 5 million dollars in his lifetime from his concerts and recitals.
Boone’s career ran before the era but did record several of his compositions on player piano rolls. Much of his music that remains is not performed live by others, not due to lack of quality, but because it is just too complicated for even the most gifted performers to play well.
John William Boone was born on May 17th, 1864. His mother was a contraband Slave and his father, a Union Soldier. He lost his eyesight at age six months due to a brain infection. Boone was a child prodigy and began playing piano by the age of three. Boone’s genius though never really manifested until after he had received formal classical training as a young man. Boone merged melodies from, Liszt, Beethoven, and Bach with some of the music he had been playing in the local saloons into a piece of hybrid music that would eventually become known as Ragtime. While performers like Scott Joplin and Jellyroll Morton would bring the music into wider acclaim, it was Boone who laid the foundation for the next generation to build upon.
Boone’s hometown of Warrensburg, Missouri has preserved his home and has a park in his honor. The land was once the “Colored- Person’s Park” from the city’s segregation days. Today the Park has a statue in his honor and several listening stations where you can hear recordings of Boone’s Piano Rolls. Warrensburg is about an hours drive from Kansas City and the park, and the composer’s restored home is well worth a visit.