Bethune (Green), Thomas

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Bethune (Green), Thomas

Bethune (Green), Thomas, blind black American pianist and composer, known as Blind Tom; b. Columbus, Ga., May 25, 1849; d. Hoboken, N.J., June 13, 1908. He was born blind in slavery and was purchased with his parents in 1850 by the Columbus journalist, lawyer, and politician James N. Bethune. At the age of 4, he began studying music with his master’s daughter. In 1857 he was taken on his first tour of Ga. by his master. At 9, he was “leased” to the Savannah planter Perry Oliver, who took him on a major tour of the slave states highlighted by a command performance at Willard Hall in Washington, D.C. In 1861 Blind Tom was returned to Bethune, who took him on tours of the South to raise funds for the Confederate cause. After the close of the Civil War in 1865, Bethune won a guardianship trial over Blind Tom. Bethune then took him to Europe with W.P. Howard serving as his music tutor. During his European sojourn, Blind Tom won testimonials from Charles Hallé, Ignaz Moscheles et al. Bethune then took him on various tours of the U.S. and Canada. He also received additional music training from Joseph Poznanski in N.Y. Bethune’s son’s widow won legal custody of Blind Tom in 1887, and subsequently oversaw his tours. He made his last appearance on the vaudeville circuit in 1905. In his heyday, a typical Blind Tom appearance consisted of performances of works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and other masters, improvisational feats, and some of his own works. His output included over 100 piano pieces in a salon manner, among them The Rainstorm (1865), The Battle of Manassas (1866), March Timpani (1880), Blind Tom’s Mazurka (1888), and Grand March Resurrection (1901). He also wrote vocal pieces.


G. Southall, B. T: The Post-Civil War Enslavement of a Black Musical Genius (Minneapolis, 1979); idem, The Continuing “Enslavement” of B. T, 1865–1887 (Minneapolis, 1982).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Bethune (Green), Thomas

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