Cover To Cover is the anchor program for GPB’s literary coverage. Cover To Cover features a collection of distinctive Southern voices interviewing Georgia writers, Southern writers, and writers dealing with the South. The GPB Southern Lit Cadre will provide you with a varied, weekly glimpse at fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, and even the occasional ‘old school’ nod to Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

America's Lost Musical Genius

In The Ballad of Blind Tom, Australian author Deirdre O’ Connell describes her subject as “The most famous black performer of the Civil War generation.” Was he a naive genius or a freak? Was he a gifted, original American composer or a mere mimic of the reigning piano styles of the day? O’Connell wades through 50 years of press clips and testimony searching for the answer to the question, “Who was Blind Tom?”

He was born a slave in Columbus, Georgia. Despite his autistic condition, he made his guardians piles of money, perhaps, by today’s standard, millions of dollars, of which he and his family saw almost none. It would be story of overpowering sadness had Blind Tom not been so full of life. He took great delight in playing piano up to 12 hours a day, never regarding it as work even in the midst of a staggering itinerary. (In 1999, the pianist John Davis recorded a selection of his songs, John Davis Plays Blind Tom.)

Full of wit and wild anecdote, The Ballad of Blind Tom has an astonishing cast of characters. It is Deirdre O’Connell’s first book, and she spent a good deal of time in Georgia conducting research. She has also made documentaries for the Jimi Hendrix Estate and the United Nations Environment Program and has worked in news at SBS Australia.

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