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The History and Life of John W. Blind Boone

John William "Blind" Boone
John William "Blind" Boone

Blind Boone was born in 1864 during the Civil War in Miami, Missouri. His mother, Rachel, was a contraband slave, confiscated from Confederate forces, who worked at a Union camp. His father was William S. Belcher, a 19-year-old soldier, who served as the company bugler. Shortly after giving birth, Rachel moved with her son, John William Boone, to Warrensburg, Missouri. When he was just six months old, Boone developed a severe brain infection. In order to reduce the swelling in his brain, doctors surgically removed his eyes and sewed them shut.
In her biography of Blind Boone, Melissa Fuell, principal singer for The Blind Boone Concert Company wrote, “His talent for music was discovered as soon as he could sit alone. He would sit on the stone hearth and play tunes with two sticks. His first instrument was a tin whistle with which he could play any ordinary tune after hearing it once. Next, he was presented with a mouth organ with which he charmed the whole neighborhood, children from far and near came to hear him. He soon became a favorite with all.”

As a young boy, Boone was sent to St. Louis to attend the School for the Blind to learn the trade of making broomsticks. This was until, Fuell wrote, “Once hearing a pupil of the institution practicing on the piano, he quit his work and stole up to the piano, and nothing could prevent his hands from going to the keys. He was soon able to finger out several pieces, and it was impossible to keep his mind on anything else.”

Drawing of the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis, MO
Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis, MO
John Lange Jr. and John William "Blind" Boone
John Lange Jr. and John W. Boone
John William "Blind" Boone and his wife, Eugenia Lange Boone
Eugenia Lange Boone and John W. Boone

Boone was dismissed from the school. “He wandered around St. Louis, making his living playing the mouth organ and other such instruments as he could get his hands on,” Fuell wrote. After enduring several hardships, he took a train back to his mother in Warrensburg. It was here that John Lange Jr., of Columbia, MO, discovered Boone.

Fuell wrote that Lange Jr. “took a liking to Boone and carried him to Sunday school to play for the children.” Also, after inviting Boone to play for a Christmas concert to benefit Second Baptist Church, Lange Jr. made a contract with Boone’s mother to educate Boone in music and put him on the road. Lange Jr. became Boone’s first manager, and under his guidance, Boone’s career soared. Before long, Boone became family when he married Lange’s youngest sister, Eugenia, in 1889.

John W. Blind Boone
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