For Immediate Release
The Arts Council of Tuscaloosa
Contact: Kevin Ledgewood
“JOHN DAVIS PLAYS BLIND TOM: MUSIC AS STORYTELLING” AT THE DINAH WASHINGTON CULTURAL ARTS CENTER
(Tuscaloosa, Ala.) The Arts Council of Tuscaloosa will present a performance of “John Davis Plays Blind Tom: Music as Storytelling” at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center on Feb. 25, 2015 at 7 p.m. Davis will perform the piano compositions of Thomas Wiggins, also known as Blind Tom. The performance is free and open to the public.
Thomas Wiggins, born blind and enslaved in 1849, seemed of no value to the Bethunes of Columbus, Ga., who owned Tom and his mother Charlotte. When Tom, at age 7, sat down at Colonel Bethune’s piano and played with perfection the music he heard from the family’s pianists, a musical prodigy was born. Popularly known as Blind Tom, Wiggins toured the opera houses of the South, including those in Ala., and he became the first African-American entertainer to perform in the White House. He used piano keys to tell stories and to translate the events of his time, ranging from everyday rainstorms to the sweeping Battle of Manassas. After emancipation, Wiggins’ guardianship and artistic management were retained by the Bethunes who deprived the autistic pianist of the large profits that his concerts made. He died a pauper in Hoboken, N.J. in 1908.
Blind Tom’s legacy survives thanks to his own achievements and to contemporary pianist John Davis of Brooklyn. For Trailfest 2015, with public performances and school concerts from February 22 – 27, 2015, Davis returns the music of Blind Tom to the Ala. towns where the groundbreaking pianist originally appeared. A Julliard graduate and Steinway Artist, he has recorded and released two CDs with Thomas Wiggins’ compositions. “John Davis plays Blind Tom” became a top-ten seller in classical music on Amazon.com and the #1 record on the site’s Ragtime chart. The music from the CD inspired Elton John and Bernie Taupin to co-write “The Ballad of Blind Tom” for John’s latest release, “The Diving Board.” Within the second CD, “Halley’s Comets,” Davis highlights compositions with spoken quotes from one of Wiggins’ most vocal fans, Mark Twain.
The University of Alabama School of Music and the Tuscaloosa Arts Council are partners with the Southern Literary Trail for these performances.
The concert will also take place in Mobile, Demopolis and Tuskegee.
Primary grant support for the “John Davis plays Blind Tom: Music as Storytelling” and all performances is provided by the Alabama State Council on the Arts. Additional grant support is provided by the Alabama Humanities Foundation, a state agency of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
The Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center is located at 620 Greensboro Ave. in downtown Tuscaloosa. For more information about The Arts Council, CAC or Bama Theatre, patrons should LIKE the Facebook page “The Arts Council – Bama Theatre – Cultural Arts Center” and follow tuscarts on Twitter. Call 205-758-5195 or visit tuscarts.org for further information.