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1827 - 1961
By Louise Calhoun Barfield, 1961

Testimony Concerning Blind Tom

Mrs. Routt Johnson Manning, of Washington, formerly Miss Georgia Routt, of Columbus, once wrote concerning Blind Tom in a communication to one of the local papers. She said:

Publicly testing the phenomenal gift of Blind Tom, in the hey-day of his career, amounted to an ordeal requiring both nerve and concentration.

Before a capacity audience in Macon, Georgia, Opera House, I was coerced into this predicament by insistent request from students at Wesleyan, as well as its president and faculty -- several hundred of whom were present compelling me to respond after Tom's manager's usual invitation for 'some musical to come forward.' Finding that acceptance was less conspicuous than furthur hesitancy, I smothered rising anger and went to the sacrifice, allowing myself to be seated at the piano behind the grotesque.... negro, who stood facing the crowd -- delightfully twisting his enormous light hands which contrasted singularly with his black face (at prospect of a new tune).

First, I was asked to test 'absolute pitch' on any part of the keyboard. I quickly dashed with both hands into a chromatic progression of intricate cords. With lightning rapidity, he named each note as struck. Never before or since have I seen anything like it.

I gave one number; then I played a novel selection for the left hand (right hand behind me). No word was spoken save the manager's explanations to the audience that this was something never before attempted. (It must have been understood that no one approach the blind negro). I expected him to imitate me with both hands according to the sound of the piece as in the others. Tom didn't. He rushed to the piano, almost pushing me from the stool, and paralyzed us by playing it with his right hand behind him. I was so frightened at this uncanny climax I left at once. When the deafening applause ceased I was safely hidden among my college crowd of presidents, teachers and school girls. And to this day, I am wondering why Blind Tom put his hand behind him!

Teacher of Piano and Organ at Wesleyan College, Macon, Georgia, 1855-56; 1884-85.

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