A flute once owned by Blind Tom is now in the collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The engraved nameplate on the ebony and silver flute reads "Made For Blind Tom by Wm. R. Meinell, New York."
Blind Tom is mostly famous for his mastery of the piano, however he loved playing the flute and rarely traveled without one.
The biography, The Ballad of Blind Tom, recounts many instances of Tom playing the flute: in hotel rooms, gardens and woodlands, though rarely on stage. Here are some of our favorite stories:
As a young child in Columbus Georgia, Tom's ten year old sister would keep watch on him in the yard while their parents worked. But at the song of a bird, Tom would follow it, loping off into the thickly wooded forests that surrounded much of the farm. His parent's frantic hollers for the missing child raised such alarm that his master's eldest son joined the search, combing the forest with his flute. Eventually the sweet sounds of the instrument lured Tom home.
When Tom was about eight, some friends of his master's family played a duet on piano and flute. At the first sound of the music, Tom came rushing into the parlor and "fell down upon the floor, rolled over, turned somersaults, clapped his hands and groaned and went through diverse motions as if really in pain from the pleasure the music gave him."
In 1866, Blind Tom toured Europe. In Paris, one "musical celebrity of the old world’ was so impressed by Blind Tom's performance, he presented him with “a very handsome silver mounted crystal flute,” a gift that was to become Tom’s most prized possession.
Tom would improvise on the flute long into evening. “The wild weird strains from his crystal flute murdered sleep in the most shameless manner” wrote a Washington lady of one frenzied midnight marathon. “Indescribable strains . . .notes rising into a shriek of agony . . . then melting away into a wail as soft and full of sorrow as that of Orpheus for his lost Eurydice.”
One night during his long tour season Tom played his beloved twenty-two keyed flute in his hotel room throughout the night. Eventually, a guest complained and his manager was sent in to silence him. But, as he entered the darkened room, Tom seized him, flung him out the door and refused to stop playing.
After a long legal battle, Blind Tom was reunited with his mother in 1887. A New York Times reporter was at the train station to witness his arrival: “Although he has been in the public eye since he was five-years-old, he is returning to his mother’s home with nothing but his wardrobe and a silver flute.
Could this be the silver flute now in the NMAAHC's collection?