Thomas Greene Bethune [Wiggins], 1849 -1908
Photograph of blind piano prodigy Thomas Greene Bethune, the first African American artist to perform at the White House.
Ten-year-old piano prodigy and composer Thomas Greene Wiggins Bethune (1849-1908) is believed to have been the first African American artist to perform at the White House when he played for President James Buchanan in 1860. By that time “”Blind Tom””—as the unsighted enslaved child was billed professionally by his white master-manager Colonel James Bethune—had toured the United States and was a national musical sensation.
In an era when even many abolitionist whites presumed all blacks to be an inherently inferior race, one newspaper critic in attendance reported that Blind Tom’s musical skills surpassed Mozart’s. via irockjazz.
Surprise dear slave master
look who’s in your midst
a genius from heaven whose wealth you dismissed
a child with a heart bearing gifts by design
and people who follow while love you decline
The slaves that you didn’t know
these men that you feared
were carrying that
that sacred goblet
hearing whispers of another way
impacted by your sore design
of keeping low the inborn wealth
raising one or two in disbelief
holding up one or two while somewhere in your soul
You must know these are the people of the Sun
ignited by nature
and growing by Design
much greater than the plan you had in mind.