2 John Lange Jr. and John William Blind Boone. Image courtesy of State Historical Society of Missouri (#005742).
3 Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins The Life and Times of Blind Boone Edited by Mary Collins Barile Christine Montgomery Foreword by Max Morath Truman State University Press Kirksville, Missouri
4 Copyright 2012 Truman State University Press, Kirksville, Missouri, All rights reserved tsup.truman.edu This volume includes an annotated edition of Blind Boone: His Early Life and His Achievements (2nd ed.) by Melissa Fuell-Cuther, originally published by Evangel Publishing Society (Robbins, TN) in The first edition was published in 1915 by Burton Publishing (Kansas City, MO). Cover photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri (#001578). The caption read: Jno. Lange and Jno. W. (Blind) Boone. The most astute, dignified and successful manager of the race, and the greatest living musical prodigy, who have journeyed together in the Blind Boone Concert Company thirty-five years, a record unsurpassed or equalled by any other company, white or colored in America. Both philanthropic, generous and kind hearted to a degree, they are loved by their race throughout the length and breadth of America. Kansas City Sun Press Associated News, Dec. 5, Cover design: Teresa Wheeler Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data Merit not sympathy wins : the life and times of Blind Boone / edited by Mary Barile & Christine Montgomery. p. cm. This volume includes an annotated edition of Blind Boone : his early life and his achievements (2nd ed.) by Melissa Fuell-Cuther. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN (pbk. : alk. paper) ISBN (ebook) 1. Boone, Blind, Composers United States Biography. 3. Ragtime music History and criticism. I. Barile, Mary. II. Montgomery, Christine. III. Fuell, Melissa. Blind Boone. ML410.B715M '5092 dc23 [B] No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any format by any means without written permission from the publisher. The paper in this publication meets or exceeds the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z
5 Contents Illustrations.... vii Foreword.... ix Max Morath Preface: A Life Retold... xv Strains from Flat Branch: The Music of Blind Boone John Davis A Place and a Time: The Missouri of Blind Boone and John Lange Jr Greg Olson and Gary Kremer Melissa Fuell-Cuther and Blind Boone Mary Barile and Marilyn Hillsman Blind Boone: His Early Life and His Achievements Melissa Fuell-Cuther Preface Table of Contents List of Illustrations Chapter I. Introductory Chapter Chapter II. Birth and Early Childhood Days Chapter III. School Days Chapter IV. Out in the World Chapter V. John Lange Chapter VI. On the Road Chapter VII. Prof. John William Boone Chapter VIII. What Others Think of Boone s Worth Chapter IX. Concert Reminiscences Chapter X. Some of Boone s Songs (Original)
6 vi a MERIT, NOT SYMPATHY, WINS Contents Chapter XI. Instrumental Selections Chapter XII. Supplement Boone s Faithful Manager Dies Chapter XIII. Peeping Back Then Forward Chapter XIV. Conclusion O. M. Shackelford The Story Continues Mike Shaw and Christine Montgomery Selected Chronology: The Life and Times of John William Blind Boone and John Lange Bibliography Contributor Biographies Index Music Index
7 Illustrations John Lange Jr. and John William Blind Boone... ii Advertising flyer for Blind Boone... 3 Sheet music cover, Melons Cool and Green... 5 Boone at home, circa Blind Boone on the porch of his home in Columbia Portrait of Blind Boone Portrait of Mrs. Melissa Fuell-Cuther Portrait of Mrs. Rachel Hendrix, Boone s Mother Boone s Childhood Home, drawing Portrait of Senator Francis M. Cockrell Boone s Little Tin Whistle Band, drawing Portrait of John Lange Jr Lange s Residence Ed, the parrot Lange s Cottages Lady (Lange s horse) Portrait of Blind Boone, age Portrait of Mrs. G. W. Sampson Portrait of Miss Stella May Portrait of Miss Emma Smith Ed and the School Children
8 viii a MERIT, NOT SYMPATHY, WINS Illustrations Portrait of Mrs. J. W. (Eugenia) Boone Boone at the piano in his home Portrait of President Hayes, given to Boone Portrait of Blind Boone Sketch of Blind Tom The Moon (Boone s car) Portrait of Marguerite Boyd-Day, detail from an advertising flyer Concert announcement, circa Blind Boone with his wife, Eugenia, circa John William Blind Boone, circa
9 Foreword Max Morath The lives of two musicians of unquestioned genius were rooted in the state of Missouri at the turn of the twentieth century: Scott Joplin, who lived in the state from 1894 to 1907, and John William Blind Boone, who lived and died there. For years, their accomplishments were obscured by the passage of time and the indifference of a heedless society. While one musician s work has been rediscovered and is cherished, the other s still awaits full recognition. After falling into relative obscurity during his lifetime, the life and work of Scott Joplin ( ) finally gained the notice of critics, scholars, and musicians almost forty years ago. By 1975, his compositions for piano, now known as classic rags, had been widely recorded and republished. The story of John William Boone ( ), on the other hand, resurfaces with the publication of this text, which will bring academic and media attention to the memory of the man who became Blind Boone. The lives of Boone and Joplin have equal importance to the story of American music, but for entirely different reasons. Today Joplin is recognized as the father of a form of piano music called, for reasons that remain unclear, ragtime. In fact, his 1899 hit Maple Leaf Rag defined the genre for years. As a pianist of no more than average skill, Scott Joplin was unable to couple his career as a performer to his work as a composer, and so in his own time, Joplin was not a famous man. Fortunately, he continued to publish: first in St. Louis, then in New York. The most superb items in Joplin s canon, however, withered in publishers files and private collections until they were rediscovered during the 1970s. John William Boone, however, was a famous man during his lifetime. As you will learn in this indispensable biography and the accompanying essays, his career as a celebrated concert artist spanned more than forty years. Blind Boone s success rested on his stunning command of the keyboard, enhanced by his perfect tonal memory. He was also a gifted showman and a storyteller of unfailing goodwill and ix
10 x a MERIT, NOT SYMPATHY, WINS Max Morath gentle humor. In spite of increasing racial tensions and the hardening of Jim Crow laws, he performed throughout the nation for segregated audiences, both black and white. These talents and traits, indeed Boone s very essence, allowed him to experience what affection and forbearance he did enjoy during a time of racist rigidity. While most African American artists, even major stars such as vaudeville performer and recording star Bert Williams, were obliged to shuffle around on stage in blackface, wearing slap shoes and tramp clothes, Boone appeared in his own skin. He did not shuffle and he wore a tuxedo. How did he do it? Touring in Boone s America was hard enough without the added burden of racial barriers and insults. Was it only his blindness that softened the hostilities imposed by discrimination? There is abundant evidence in these pages to the contrary it was his talent, and the joy with which he brought it to the stage, that momentarily overruled the racist dispositions of his time. Unlike Boone, Scott Joplin enjoyed only limited success during his life and died in obscurity. The public s rediscovery of his music came about in a cascading series of events. In 1971 the New York Public Library republished his piano music and the score of his forgotten 1911 opera, Treemonisha. Never fully staged in Joplin s lifetime, it was finally performed in its entirety in Atlanta under the direction of Robert Shaw in Piano recordings of Joplin s rags proliferated through a wide range of labels, and arrangements of the rags for chamber orchestras led to their use in the major motion picture The Sting (1973), featuring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, two major stars at the height of their popularity. Set in 1936, the film was underscored with Joplin s music, and its success did much to revive ragtime. Books, films, and television specials about the composer followed, and in 1976, after a production of Treemonisha on Broadway, Scott Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize. A similar groundswell of interest in the life of John William Boone is now building. Access to information about his life and events featuring his music are converging, and the publication of this key biography is leading the way. Research concerning Boone s music should now deepen with the pending publication of his transcriptions and compositions. In 2008, pianist John Davis released Marshfield Tornado: John Davis Plays Blind Boone (Newport Classic), a definitive recording of Boone s challenging arrangements. It includes his stunning version of Old Folks at Home, the score of which is included in these pages. In addition to lovers of music, scholars are becoming increasingly interested in Boone s life, notably Mike Shaw, Gary Kremer, and Greg Olson, who are represented in this volume. Their efforts to unearth Boone s life and music surely foreshadow the coming full- court media attention to the artist. But here ends the parallel between modern rediscoveries of Boone and Joplin.
11 Foreword a xi We heard Scott Joplin s music and found that we loved it. We embraced his legacy as a composer, but we knew or cared little about his life. It is John William Boone s life itself that awaits our attention. His slender musical legacy will please us, but we now need to plumb the depths of the man s existence outside of his music. His is a life shaped like that of a great novel one that features courage in the face of poverty and adversity, bolstered by hope and friendship. John William Boone was born in 1864, when the Civil War had yet to conclude. He was thirteen years old in 1877 when Reconstruction ended, and he was thirty- two years old when the Supreme Court handed down Plessy v. Ferguson, legalizing the separate but equal doctrine that triggered the onrush of Jim Crow laws, which prevailed into the 1960s. In 1915, the year this biography was first published, D. W. Griffith released The Birth of a Nation, a film that was as cinematically innovative as it was viciously racist. Many historians agree that it played a major role in the upsurge of bigotry and racial violence that followed and contributed to the renewed activism of the Ku Klux Klan after World War I. Blind Boone s years of national celebrity fit precisely within these turbulent years. His first formal concert under Lange s management took place in 1880; his last concert took place in 1927, the year of his death. Many men and women of equal courage and determination played vital roles in his story: John William Boone s mother, Rachael, a contraband slave on the day of his birth; his manager, John Lange Jr.; Lange s sister Eugenia, who became Boone s wife; and the author of this biography herself, Melissa Fuell- Cuther. Lange, himself a former slave, guided Boone s career from the age of sixteen with a careful and caring eye. Already a successful Missouri businessman, Lange chanced to hear Boone at a church recital. Following the young man s performance, Lange offered to direct his career, which flourished because the manager approached it as though it were a business. He enlarged the concert format to include a succession of talented singers, and he hired advance men and road managers to handle travel arrangements and publicity, staging, lighting, and box office control. Without Lange s business acumen and faith in Boone, the performer might have disappeared into the shadows of saloons and tenderloin districts. Author Melissa Fuell- Cuther ( ) modestly notes her accomplishments as a youthful singer with the Boone Company, but the continued story of her long life reveals a determined woman who became a prominent educator. She also championed the memory of another Missouri native, George Washington Carver, until the federal government dedicated a national monument to his memory. One year before his death, John Lange had petitioned her to write a biography of Boone. It was a timely decision of invaluable foresight; without
12 xii a MERIT, NOT SYMPATHY, WINS Max Morath that volume, no coherent story of Boone s life would exist just endless scraps of concert bills and notices, without much detail regarding his origins and his family, and their roots in slavery. In 1994, musicologist Edward A. Berlin, after years spent tracking the life of Scott Joplin, produced his monumental biography, The King of Ragtime (Oxford University Press). This volume provides a starting point for similar research into the life of Boone, but there is still much work to be done. No doubt there are resources yet to be discovered; perhaps there are mildewed diaries, church records, and newspaper files out there, awaiting the efforts of devoted scholars to comb through a near- century s worth of stories to uncover unique insights about Boone s one- of- a- kind touring company in a nation still in the grip of Jim Crow, and use that information to reconstruct the epic of the life of Boone. Did Blind Boone know Joplin? Some say he must have. Joplin was living in Sedalia on the several occasions that Boone performed there. But it s facile to assume that all professional pianists of the 1890s African American or white were caught up in the ragtime storm; there s little evidence that Boone was part of it. Consider Boone s published work. Only two pieces employ the word rag in their titles, and their scores bear little resemblance to the prevalent form of classic piano ragtime. Neither one is reprinted in either edition of this biography. Was this Fuell- Cuther s decision, Boone s, or Lange s? Indeed, you will search through the text of both editions in vain to find the author, even once, using the word ragtime positively or negatively. The word does appear in a review quoted from a Fort Dodge newspaper in 1915, stating that Boone played the classics and ragtime (p [Fuell-Cuther, Blind Boone, ]). That is simply a careless use of the word, however; by 1915 all popular music was called ragtime. Boone composed, yes, but he also performed those compositions. His surviving works, several of which are reprinted in this volume, are of extreme technical difficulty. They were, nonetheless, carefully engraved and published. If Boone had been consistently composing and performing rags, why were they not published, especially in his home state of Missouri, the acknowledged birthplace of ragtime? J. W. Jenkins & Son of Kansas City published his densely scored seventeen- page arrangement of Old Folks at Home in After 1900 the Jenkins firm was also a consistent publisher of ragtime. In St. Louis, John Stark & Son, having launched Joplin s seminal Maple Leaf Rag in 1899, became for years the nation s major publisher of classic rags. If ragtime was the rage at the time, why weren t Boone s two rags snatched up by these publishers? Instead, they were published in 1908 and 1909 by W. B. Allen, proprietor of a music store in Columbia, and bore Allen s personal copyright registry rather than Boone s.
13 Foreword a xiii Blind Boone, who became nationally famous, performed in both Boston and New York. Some of his concert pieces carry the imprint of the respected, old Boston publishing firms of Oliver Ditson and John Church. Neither published any ragtime, by Boone or anyone else; but what of ragtime s Tin Pan Alley powerhouses in New York, such as Jos. W. Stern & Co. or Jerome Remick? Both lack even a single Boone title. We want John William Boone to be a notable character in the story of ragtime. The fact that he was not should not slacken our interest in him; rather it should strengthen it. Boone s career paralleled Joplin s in its timing and location, and the lives of both men were grounded in music, but as the years go by, Boone s career will resonate beyond his music to invaluably remind us of the pains and rewards of our national past. Scott Joplin s ragtime has found its place in the history of American music, but it is John William Boone s life that now renews its ascendancy into the history of America itself.
14 A Life Retold Preface In 1915 a relatively unknown young black woman put pen to paper to write the only biography of the turn- of- the- century musical sensation known as Blind Boone to be written during his lifetime. As a part of his touring company and a lifelong acquaintance of Boone, the author, Melissa Fuell- Cuther, had insider knowledge of the musician/composer and wrote what serves as the foundation of current knowledge and lore about Boone. Her book provides a look at the entertainment industry during this period, as well as the difficulties encountered by black entertainers during the height of the Jim Crow era. The biography was commissioned by Boone s manager, John Lange. That fact, as well as the tone of the book, conveys the underlying sense that the biography originally had promotional value it was used to present Boone to the larger world in the hopes of expanding his audience. It is the record of how the two men, especially Lange, wanted their lives to be remembered. As a tribute or homage, it does not provide a critical view of Boone s life or music. Indeed, Fuell- Cuther s tone toward both Boone and Lange is almost reverential. This is not naïve hero worship, however. It is difficult to describe to today s audience how important these two men were to the black population in the United States during this time. Not only were they widely recognized and respected for their abilities, but they were also acknowledged civic leaders and philanthropists in both black and white communities. Fuell reprinted the biography in 1918 with some revisions. Most notably, she added chapters about the death of John Lange and information about the company s activities immediately afterward. As memories of Boone s piano virtuosity faded after his own death in 1927, both editions of his biography became rare and his name largely fell into obscurity. Although Boone never considered himself or desired to be known as a ragtime composer, it was ragtime performers who kept his name and music alive as those performers struggled with public neglect of America s first original musical genre. Jazz replaced ragtime in popularity even xv
15 xvi a MERIT, NOT SYMPATHY, WINS Preface before Boone s death in 1927, and ragtime only enjoyed a major resurgence of interest in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some local groups in Boone s hometown communities of Warrensburg and Columbia, Missouri, did their part to keep his name from falling through the cracks of time. In the 1950s, the citizens of Warrensburg renamed a previously segregated park in his honor, and today, a citizens group continues to educate the park s visiting public about Boone. In the 1960s, the University of Missouri performed and recorded a concert of Boone music. This started a momentum building to recognize Missouri as the birthplace of ragtime music and honor Boone as one of the earliest ragtime composers and performers. Lucille Salerno further increased Boone s name recognition by changing the name of her annual international ragtime festival in Columbia, Missouri, to the John William Blind Boone Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival in The festival continues today and always features the music of Boone. Several CDs have been dedicated to Boone s music: Frank Townsell s Blind Boone s Piano Music (1998) and more recently Marshfield Tornado by John Davis (2008), as well as the Blind Boone Park Renovation Group s fundraising CD, Blind Boone: Strains from the Flat Branch, which features seven of Boone s piano- roll recordings from the early 1900s. Efforts are now underway to restore Boone s home in Columbia. In 2010, Mary Barile recognized the increasing rarity and importance of the Fuell biography. She pulled together a group of historians and musicians who cared deeply about the Boone story, and submitted a proposal to Truman State University Press for reprinting the biography with accompanying essays. Christine Montgomery then assumed the job of editing, fact-checking, and annotating the Fuell text to bring the project to fruition. This volume sets the stage for Fuell s biography by placing Boone in the context of his time, geographical location, and the music of the era. Juilliard- trained pianist and music historian John Davis, who learned of Blind Boone through his earlier research on the life of Blind Tom, describes a few of the period s musical influences on Boone s work, how he affected the music of his day, and the impact of his music on later developments in American music. Historians Gary Kremer and Greg Olson provide an essay on what it was like to live in Missouri during the turbulent Civil War era and subsequent Jim Crow laws, with a focus on life in Boone s hometown of Columbia. This includes information on John Lange s family, who were important to the history of black Columbia. Mary Barile and Marilyn Hillsman provide us with details of Melissa Fuell s life after publication of the biography. In the final essay of the book, Mike Shaw and Christine Montgomery explain what happened to Boone after the death of John Lange, which is where Fuell s story of the musician leaves off.
16 A Life Retold xvii Fuell s 1918 edition is reproduced here for the scholar who seeks knowledge of this exceptionally talented individual and background information on what was occurring in the entertainment industry at the turn of the twentieth century. Fuell relied on Boone for the facts of his life, which means that some names are spelled phonetically and chronologies are often approximate. The editors have made every effort to identify the individuals mentioned and indicate proper spelling in footnotes, but within the text itself, original spelling variations and punctuation usage has been retained. Fuell s prose and many of the contemporary newspaper accounts reflect the language, prejudices, and stereotypes of the era. These provide the reader with a sense of Boone s time and help with understanding the environment in which Boone and his contemporaries lived. Any differences between the 1915 and 1918 editions are also noted. With growing interest in the music and life of Boone and expanded online access to newspapers and documents, additional information about the artist s life and musical career continues to come to light. Online resources, such as the Library of Congress s Chronicling America newspaper project, proved invaluable in piecing together the life of Boone and those connected to him outside of his home state. For Missouri resources, the State Historical Society s newspaper and manuscript collections proved equally important. Many people made this project possible. The editors wish to thank each of the essayists, who have willingly donated their time and all proceeds from the sale of this book to the restoration of the Boone home in Columbia. Special thanks to Mike Shaw, whose invaluable research was instrumental in making this book the resource that it is. His extensive research in tracking down primary sources allows us to distinguish the facts from the myths surrounding the musician. His generosity in sharing much of his research is evident in the annotations to the Fuell biography. Any errors in the annotations are the responsibility of the editors. We also wish to thank Mark Bowdin at the Detroit Public Library and the staff at the State Historical Society of Missouri, especially Kim Harper, Sara Przybylski, and Peter McCarthy, for their assistance and diligence; Lucille Salerno for her support and advice; and Tess Montgomery Olson for her willingness to key in the original manuscript and cfrancis blackchild for assisting with the proofing. Last, but not least, we thank Truman State University Press for taking on this publication, especially Barbara Smith- Mandell and Nancy Rediger for their assistance and willingness to help spread this story. The story of Boone is by no means complete. There is still much to be uncovered, and his true place in music is yet to be defined. We hope this volume will inspire others to continue investigating his life and influence. In the last chapter of
17 xviii a MERIT, NOT SYMPATHY, WINS Preface Fuell s biography, O. M. Shackelford writes that Fuell s chief desire in publishing the story of Lange and Boone was to open the pages of their lives to the world in order that they may be honored for what they accomplished. We share that desire and hope that you will also find their story rewarding. Christine Montgomery Mary Barile December 28, 2011
18 Strains from Flat Branch The Music of Blind Boone John Davis The piano career of John William Blind Boone ( ), a sightless son of a free black woman and a white bugle player in the Union army, did not just survive during the Jim Crow era it flourished. As blacks were regularly being lynched around him (a particularly brutal such murder occurred in 1923, just blocks from the pianist s home in Columbia, Missouri 1 ), Boone and his all-black Boone Concert Company traversed the Midwest and western United States over and over again, performing for often racially segregated audiences. During its peak from 1885 to 1916, Boone s traveling musical extravaganza, under the deft management of African American John Lange Jr., toured ten months out of the year, gave six concerts a week, and in 1908 took in $150 to $600 a night, equivalent to $3,600 to $14,375 in 2010 dollars. 2 More astonishing than its financial success was the Boone Concert Company s ability to sustain such popularity and influence while assuming a decidedly activist stance. The company motto, Merit, not Sympathy, Wins, was a direct challenge to the discriminatory promotion of Thomas Blind Tom Wiggins ( ), the formerly enslaved, sightless, and probably autistic Georgia pianist/composer on whose career Boone s was initially modeled. Throughout Wiggin s enormously successful run of concerts in the second half of the nineteenth century, most legitimate aspects of the pianist s artistic talent were downplayed in favor of a sensationalized publicity campaign designed to fan the flame of accepted 1. For more information on Missouri lynchings and the cultural climate in which Boone and Lange traveled during this period, see Olson and Kremer in this volume, pp See p. 96 (Fuell-Cuther, Blind Boone, ). The figures for 2010 dollars were calculated using The Inflation Calculator at 1
19 2 a MERIT, NOT SYMPATHY, WINS Davis racial stereotypes of the era and the public s limitless fascination with the freak show. The architect of this cynically designed marketing approach was James Neil Bethune, Wiggin s former owner and post-emancipation legal guardian, and prior to the Civil War, one of the leading anti-abolitionist newspaper publishers in the South. Doubling as Blind Tom s manager, Bethune and his hired deputies falsely advertised Blind Tom as merely a bovine, musical illiterate, in possession of an inexplicably prodigious memory, ear, and keyboard prowess. Boone s own career was launched by an infamous playoff staged by John Lange Jr. that successfully pitted the upstart fifteen-year-old against the older and moreseasoned Wiggins at Garth Hall in Columbia, Missouri, in From that night on, Boone s programs, like his predecessor s, always featured performances of his own compositions, well-known opera transcriptions, and a variable mix of mainstream classical works by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Thalberg, and Gottschalk, as well as several of Blind Tom s signature keyboard and extra-musical stunts. 4 Even Blind John, an early stage name Boone adopted but later abandoned, paid homage to Wiggins. But the Blind Boone Concert Company, officially established in 1880, soon departed from the Blind Tom model. The activist impulse that lay at the core of the company mission took precedence over any initial urge to ride the coattails of Blind Tom. Boone and Lange adopted Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins as their motto, in an attempt to discourage the kind of sordid attention to the star s infirmities that had been such an effective drawing card in Wiggin s career. More generally, Merit, Not Sympathy Wins was a call to eliminate the racial barriers imposed by Jim Crow. The Boone Company s weapon of choice in fighting institutionalized racism was African American music. Boone and Lange sought to break down racial barriers of the era by exposing both blacks and whites in the audience to the rich sound world of African American culture. In his concert programs, Boone regularly performed camp meeting tunes, plantation melodies, negro spirituals, minstrel songs, ragtime, coon songs, and his own black music inspired piano pieces: a strategy Boone characterized as putting cookies on the lower shelf so that everyone can get at them. In the process, Boone became the first instrumentalist, preceded only by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choral group of former slaves from Fisk University, to bring nineteenth-century African American influenced folk and popular music into the concert hall See p. 69 (Fuell-Cuther, Blind Boone, 63). 4. Like Wiggins, Boone performed keyboard imitations of various musical instruments and mechanical devices, and rendered three songs at once: one in the right hand, another in the left, and a third vocally, each in a different key. He also referenced Blind Tom by playing back, on the spot and note-for-note, clusters of random notes and an original piece hammered out moments earlier by a local pianist onstage. 5. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, who performed a series of celebrated tours of North America and Europe in the
20 Initially adopting the freak-show sensationalism used by Blind Tom s promoters, Lange quickly dropped this approach and often described Boone s intelligence in advertisements and programs. Image courtesy of Ellie Fike Diaries (#2216.f.2), State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscript Collection.
21 A Place and a Time The Missouri of Blind Boone and John Lange Jr. Greg Olson and Gary R. Kremer Melissa Fuell s biography of John William Boone is important, not only because it gives us insight into the life of this extraordinary entertainer, but also because of what it tells us about his manager, John Lange Jr., and the cultural climate that shaped both men. Boone was born in Missouri, and Lange moved there from Kentucky when he was about ten years old. Despite enjoying the national acclaim and wealth that could easily have been their one- way ticket to stardom in Chicago, New York, or New Orleans, Boone and Lange both chose to make their homes in the Show- Me State. As Fuell states in her supplement to Blind Boone, The two were as one, and their stories give us a rare glimpse into the experience of African Americans living in Missouri at the turn of the twentieth century. For most of his life, John William Blind Boone rarely stayed in one place for long. From his infant days in a Union militia camp near Miami, Missouri, to his adult years spent as a traveling musician, he lived a life of transience. Blind Boone s travels took him throughout the state and, eventually, across the country. By the time he was forty- nine years- old, Boone claimed to have traveled more than 144,000 miles and slept in 7,000 beds. 1 But even though John William Boone spent much of his life shuttling between concert halls and railroad stations, he considered Columbia, Missouri, to be the one place he could call home. Though he was born among soldiers who fought for the Union cause, the camp in which Boone spent his earliest days was located in the heart of Missouri s slave region. Saline County s five thousand African American slaves accounted for 1. Swindell, John William Boone s Chicago Itinerary,
22 12 a MERIT, NOT SYMPATHY, WINS Olson and Kremer roughly one- third of the county s total population on the eve of the Civil War. 2 The commitment of Saline County residents to slavery can be measured in part by the fact that, in the presidential election of 1860, the county s voters failed to cast a single ballot for Abraham Lincoln, the candidate who opposed the expansion of slavery into United States territories. 3 The racial oppression that continued after emancipation dictated what Boone and other Missourians of color were able to do and how they were able to live. For example, Boone s white father and black mother never married. Missouri law would have prohibited them from doing so, even if they had wanted to. The prohibition against a black person marrying a white person persisted until nearly half a century after Boone s death in Racial division was also institutionalized and codified in the way Missourians were educated throughout Boone s life black and white students were prohibited from attending school together. Boone was still an infant when, at the war s end, his mother, Rachel, moved to Warrensburg, Missouri, the county seat of Johnson County and home to a couple of thousand African Americans, forming a significantly lower percentage of the population than in Saline County. 4 Like the vast majority of Missouri blacks who emerged from the Civil War, Boone s mother did not have the formal education that might have helped her make the transition from slavery to freedom because antebellum Missouri law had prohibited slaves from being taught to read or write. Thus, the illiterate Rachel Boone turned to the domestic skills she learned as a slave to earn a living for herself and her son; the 1870 federal census lists her occupation as Washing and Ironing. While Boone enjoyed a relatively stationary childhood in Warrensburg, the local black school was not equipped to handle a young blind student. So, in 1872, Rachel sent nine- year- old Willy to the Missouri Institution for the Education of the Blind, a St. Louis- based facility that operated as a special branch of the state s public school system. Local white Warrensburg townsfolk, many of whom had employed Rachael as a laundress, aided the family by raising money to help pay the costs of Willy s education. By the time Willy arrived at the school, no more than a half- dozen of the nearly one hundred students in attendance were African American. Still, it is ironic that Boone s blindness entitled him to attend a racially 2. Census of Missouri: Table Showing the Population of Missouri by Counties, as Returned by the Eighth Census, 1860, Records of the 1861 Missouri State Convention, Missouri State Archives. 3. Election Returns for Saline County, Missouri, General Election, 6 Nov 1860, Office of the Secretary of State, Elections Division, Missouri State Archives. 4. Census of Missouri: Table Showing the Population of Missouri by Counties, as Returned by the Eighth Census, Records of the 1861 Missouri State Convention, Missouri State Archives.
23 A Place and a Time a 13 integrated school at a time when his sighted contemporaries were forced to attend segregated schools. After a series of misadventures led to his dismissal from the school, Willy lived for a time on the streets of St. Louis, broke and hungry. After a brief stay back in Warrensburg, Boone left home again at the age of twelve to become an entertainer, embarking on a life of near- constant travel. Under the direction of an unscrupulous manager, Boone first played harmonica in the streets of small towns in central Missouri. By the time that Boone is first known to have set foot in Columbia in the late 1870s, it was a rough- hewn town of just over three thousand people. In 1821, the city s first homes and businesses had been erected in a shallow valley where Flat Branch Creek intersected the newly rerouted Boonslick Trail, which linked Columbia to St. Charles and St. Louis to the east, and to the Santa Fe Trail to the west. Though conveniently close to water, the town was an undesirable location to situate a home or conduct business. The low- lying land along the creek was often damp and swampy, leaving the unpaved streets and market square mired in muck. As the town grew in size, Flat Branch Creek also became a dumping ground for refuse and sewage. By the 1840s, white merchants and residents began abandoning the area in favor of higher ground a few blocks to the east. Seeing an opportunity to buy affordable land, a small number of free African Americans purchased much of the property bordering the fetid creek and established a neighborhood that was first called Blackcrook and later known as the Sharp End. 5 One of the most prominent early black businessmen to work in Blackcrook was John Bateste Lang Sr. (the family would eventually change the spelling of their name to Lange). Lang, a free French Creole from Louisiana, married Louisa, a slave who belonged to the second wife of James Shannon, an educator and proslavery preacher. The Langs had thirteen children. One of their elder sons, John Jr., who was born in 1840, would later become Blind Boone s manager. Before moving to Columbia, the Shannon and Lang families lived in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, where James Shannon, a Disciples of Christ preacher, served as president of Bacon College. When the University of Missouri offered Shannon the post of president in 1850, John Lang Sr. followed the Shannon family and their slaves from Kentucky to Columbia in order to be near his wife and their children, who remained enslaved after moving to Missouri. Even though he was a free man, John Lang Sr. needed a license to live in Columbia. Between 1845 and 1865, any free Negroes and mulattos who wanted to settle in Boone County, Missouri, where Columbia is located, had to show that 5. Jindrich, Our Black Children: The Evolution of Black Space in Columbia, Missouri, 18, 41.
24 Melissa Fuell-Cuther and Blind Boone Mary Barile and Marilyn Hillsman In 1915, Blind Boone: His Life and Times became the first biography of a black musician published in America. The author, a young black woman, was relatively unknown, but the musician known as Blind Boone was a beloved national sensation, especially within the black community. Born in 1864, Boone lost his sight shortly after birth, but his genius for music became apparent while he was still a young child, and he later encountered people who took advantage of his talents. A chance meeting with Columbia, Missouri, contractor John Lange saved Boone from a life of hardship and obscurity. Their lives entwined for thirty- one years as friends, colleagues, and business partners. Shortly before his death in 1916, Lange commissioned Melissa Fuell, a singer in their entertainment company, to write Boone s biography. What little is known today about Fuell must be teased out from obituaries, news articles, and the book itself, in which her former teacher O. M. Shackelford wrote of Fuell s early life in a concluding chapter. Born in Warrensburg, Missouri, on May 15, 1886, Fuell received a degree from the Lincoln Institute (now Lincoln University) in Jefferson City, Missouri. I always wanted to attend the then Lincoln Institute State college at Jefferson city, she recalled. Through interested teachers I found a way to work my way through Lincoln. I scrubbed the woodcovered halls on my knees, as no one used mops. She graduated with secondhighest honors from Lincoln losing out on the highest honor, she believed, only because she was competing with a male student. 1 After graduation, Fuell traveled to Colorado where she searched for a teaching job while supporting herself as a house cleaner. She returned to Missouri 1. Unidentified newspaper article by Joannie Kidder, Cuther, Melissa Fuell Vertical File, SHS MO. 24
25 Melissa Fuell- Cuther and Blind Boone a 25 when she was hired to teach first grade in Joplin, where she remained from 1905 to A talented singer who had performed as child, Fuell joined the Blind Boone Concert Company at the suggestion of Miss Emma Smith, the company s lead singer. Like other singers before her, Fuell also worked as the company secretary. After becoming acquainted with her skills, John Lange commissioned her to write a biography of John Boone, which, given Boone s popularity and fame, Lange expected to become a bestseller. In 1915, Fuell left the company to promote the book, but despite her efforts and Boone s fame, Blind Boone had limited sales. The following year, Fuell married Charles William Sunshine Cuther of Carthage, Missouri. Cuther was a hotel employee renowned for his personality and sense of humor. He worked for more than fifty years at the Connor Hotel in Joplin, a popular stop for entertainers and celebrities. Just as she had promised Lange shortly before his death, the couple purchased several properties, including apartment houses, where they hosted black performers such as Marion Anderson and Duke Ellington, who were refused lodgings at the area s whites- only hotels. Fuell- Cuther s accomplishments as a community leader and educator were impressive during a time when blacks were barred from many places of work and education. When Fuell- Cuther saw a need, she did not allow the existence of segregation to stop her. One of her colleagues recalled in later years that when [politicians] saw her coming, they knew it was business. 2 Recognizing the importance of George Washington Carver to American history, she helped to preserve his home and later worked to establish the George Washington Carver National Park site, the first such site to honor an African- American. She was instrumental in opening and supporting the George Washington Carver Memorial Nursery School on the Carver property, the first organization of its kind for working African American families in Joplin. The Carver property, under Fuell- Cuther s leadership, also became the site of Ewert Park, the first park for African Americans in Joplin. Fuell- Cuther formed the first African American Girl Scout troop in Missouri in 1946 and worked to develop many other projects within the black community, including Lincoln High School, the Ewert Park Little League, and Camp Mintahama. Like Boone and Lange, the couple was active in the Masons: Melissa was a matron of the Missouri Masonic Order and the Eastern Star, and Charles was a past master of a Joplin Masonic lodge. 3 After the death of Charles Cuther, Fuell- 2. Christen Reuter, Undated newspaper article, Joplin (MO) Globe, Cuther, Melissa Fuell Vertical Files, SHS MO. 3. Of Cabbages and Kings, unidentified Joplin newspaper article by Porter Wittich in Cuther, Melissa Fuell Vertical File, SHS MO.
26 26 a MERIT, NOT SYMPATHY, WINS Barile and Hillsman Cuther briefly lived in Kansas City with their daughter, Charlene Cuther Anderson, but returned to live out her remaining years in Joplin. Fuell- Cuther s understanding of John William Boone and his music was based upon mutual respect (she referred to him as Brother Boone ), a lifelong friendship, and her dedication to music and education. In the biography, Fuell- Cuther commented on the hardship and discrimination the troupe faced in the days of Jim Crow with a clear voice and no self- pity, believing firmly in Lange s dictum that merit, not sympathy, wins. Although Fuell- Cuther is generally uncritical of Boone, Lange, and their times (befitting her mission to uplift and inspire readers), her book is a rare record of the daily lives and lifelong careers of two remarkable African Americans. Two editions of the biography were published during Fuell- Cuther s lifetime: one in 1915 by Burton Publishing Company of Kansas City, Missouri, and a later 1918 edition, published in Robbins, Tennessee, by the Evangel Publishing Society. Educator and musician Otis M. Shackelford wrote in the book s afterword that it will be a valuable contribution to the literature and the history of the race. It will be an inspiration to the youth, a living example of what pluck and perseverance will do. Shackelford, author of Seeking the Best: Dedicated to Negro Youth, understood the value of Fuell- Cuther s work. He believed that it was not the responsibility of the white community to record the history of black life in America; that responsibility lay with the black community, which held a rich fund of memory, history, and belief. 4 Melissa Fuell- Cuther embraced the history of her community with a singlemindedness that accomplished things unimagined by either white or black educators a generation previous. She did so with grace, grit, and talent for more than seventy years. After her death in 1968, the community erected a monument in her honor at the George Washington Carver Memorial Nursery School. The plaque is dedicated to Melissa Cuther: Educator, Founder, Humanitarian. In an interview shortly before she died at the age of eighty, Melissa Fuell- Cuther reflected, There are so many beautiful opportunities to help make the world a better place in which to live, a belief she lived with unwavering faith Shackelford, Seeking the Best: Dedicated to Negro Youth. 5. Unidentified newspaper article by Joannie Kidder, Cuther, Melissa Fuell Vertical File, SHS MO.
27 Blind Boone
28 Blind Boone World Renowned Pianist and Musical Genius
29 Blind Boone His Early Life and His Achievements Including Early Life Stories; Professional Life Incidents; Concert Reminiscences; Brief Life of His First and Only Manager also His Musical Compositions Arranged in Instrumental Selections of the Waltz, Gallop, Caprice, Serenade, Polka, Together With His Reveries and Songs by Mrs. Melissa Fuell-Cuther, B.S.D. 1 Teacher of Wide Reputation, Lecturer, Author of Life s Mystery, Cry of a Lonely Heart, Fire of Chicago And Other Poetic Ballads 310 Kentucky Ave., Joplin, Mo. Illustrated Evangel Publishing Society Robbins, Tennessee NOTE: Bracketed numbers in text indicate page numbers in original printing of 1918 edition. 1. In the 1915 edition, the author s name was listed as Miss Melissa Fuell, B.S.D. 2. The 1915 edition was published by Burton Publishing, 915 Woodland Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri.
30 Mrs. Melissa Fuell-Cuther The Authoress; Former Assistant to Boone s Manager. Handler of All Finance, Correspondence, etc., and Mezzo-Soprano in Blind Boone s Concert Company 3 3. The caption in the 1915 edition reads: Miss Melissa Fuell, The Authoress; Assistant to Boone s Manager, Handler of All Finance, Correspondence, etc., and Mezzo-Soprano in Blind Boone s Concert Company.
31  To my dear Father who was ever mindful of my education and higher developments and to my faithful Mother to whom I owe everything All that I am and all that I hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother, the authoress sincerely dedicates this volume The 1915 dedication reads: To Mrs. Mary J. Stover Joplin, Mo. Truest friend, kindliest critic, staunch supporter of anything I have undertaken and heartiest co-operator in doing whatever she can, to promote the welfare of the principal characters of this story, the author dedicates this volume.
32  Preface The hills, the rocks, the mountains steep, The valleys low, the waters deep, Are viewed by all from land to land; The works of God so great and grand; Yet greater far to understan His master work The Mind of Man. Fuell This little book aims to place the true life of a master work before the lovers of character studies. It has been my great honor, as well as good fortune, to know the subject of this sketch from my earliest childhood days, to the present date of this edition. Many curious and anxious minds have sought to know his early life; the period of his blindness; what caused his blindness; when he first began playing; how long he has been on the road; how much money the company has handled; how far he has traveled; how much he has contributed to charitable  purposes; if his mother is living; if he is married and numerous other questions. After you have carefully perused these pages and after you have satisfied yourself concerning many things in his life of which no doubt you have often wondered, it is hoped that a higher inspiration be manifested to make the best of every opportunity to find your talent and then use it to the greatest good. Accept no middle ground, but amidst trials and hardships, make your friends in this life, as did our subject The World Renowned Pianist John William Boone. For: The way is broad and full of work; Some try to drift and fake it, But if you d win, have push and say: It s here for me, I ll make it. Fuell 33
33  Table of Contents Chapter I. Introductory Chapter Barefoot waif; Un-noticed; Lost in the masses; Gets discouraged but sees a lesson in the hard working farmer; A lesson for you and me; Follows the lesson of life; becomes a great man; Finds favor with God, who places him in fellowship with mankind; Many, in his station of life; Introduction of one; Ragged, blind; Little Willie Boone; He, too, follows the lesson of life; Becomes World Renowned Pianist Blind Boone... 41 Chapter II. Birth and Early Childhood Days Born in Miami; His mother, Southerner; left Miami; Came to Warrensburg; Willie fretful, sick; An anxious mother; Fears the worst; Eyes removed; Hopes for recovery; Health; Three years old; Attracts attention by perfect rhythm, in tunes; His baby songs; Eight years old; Mother marries; Log cabin home; First musical instruments; Organizes band; Street concerts; Nine years old: Mother anxious about his education; Sent to School... 45 Chapter III. School Days Enrolled; Becomes a favorite; First and second terms; Slow progress; Attracted by music; Enoch  Donley; First opportunity; Genius; Teases other pupils; Causes jealously [sic]; Encouraged by the superintendent; Parting of friends; Returns home; Renders useful service; School time again; Changes; Truancy; On public program; Stage fright; Regains composure; Makes good; His friend, Colonel Cockrell, present; New resolutions broken; Dismissed from school... 53 Chapter IV. Out in the World In the tenant districts of St. Louis; Mr. Kerry; The way of the transgressor; Homesick; The prodigal s return; A job; Kidnapped; A cruel master; Searching for Willie; Sam Reiter; A prisoner; Stolen again; Cromwell caught; Home again; Tells of his wanderings; At the Foster School; Day dreams; Leaves home again; Entertaining passengers 35
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State of Tennessee Department of State Tennessee State Library and Archives 403 Seventh Avenue North Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0312 FOWLER, JOSEPH SMITH (1820-1902) PAPERS 1809-1902 Processed by: Harry
[MJTM 16 (2014 2015)] BOOK REVIEW Barry Hankins and Thomas S. Kidd. Baptists in America: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. xi + 329 pp. Hbk. ISBN 978-0-1999-7753-6. $29.95. Baptists in