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The Wiggins
The Wiggins

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Inspired by Thomas Wiggins

Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins (May 25, 1849 – June 14, 1908) was an African-American autistic savant and musical prodigy on the piano. He had many original compositions published and had a long and very successful performing career throughout the United States. During the 19th century, he was one of the greatest well known American performing pianists. Wiggins was born on the Wiley Edward Jones Plantation in Harris County, Georgia. Blind at birth, he was sold in 1850 along with his enslaved parents, Charity and Mingo Wiggins, to General James Neil Bethune, a Columbus, Georgia lawyer. Due to being blind, he could not perform work demanded of enslaved Africans. Tom was left to play and explore the Bethune plantation. At an early age, he displayed an interest in the piano after hearing the instrument played by Bethune's daughters. By age four he reportedly had acquired intuitive piano skills based solely on hearing. He continually intruded upon the Bethune family residence to gain access to the piano. By age five Tom reportedly had composed his first tune, The Rain Storm. After his extraordinary music skills were recognized by General Bethune, Tom was permitted to live in a room attached to the family house, away from the enslaved quarters. The small room was equipped with a piano. Bethune then hired out "Blind Tom" at the age of eight years to concert promoter Perry Oliver, who toured him extensively in the US, performing as often as four times a day and earning Oliver and Bethune up to $100,000 a year, equivalent to an estimated 1.5 million a year today, making Blind Tom undoubtedly the nineteenth century's most highly compensated pianist. General Bethune's family eventually made a fortune estimated at $750,000 at the hands of Blind Tom.