In June, 1907, a crowd in the large auditorium of the First Methodist church sat enraptured before the musical genius of John William Boone, better known as “Blind Boone.” Boone had lost his eyesight at the age of six due to illness, but the handicap had not prevented him from finding a career as a piano player. Managed by John Lange, Boone toured Missouri and the nation performing a mix between the classic and the popular. His visit to Joplin coincided with his 26th season on the road with Lange. Considered a Ragtime player, Boone entertained the Joplin crowd with songs from Chopin, Sidney Smith, Liszt, Gottschalk, and Wollenhaust. Additionally, Boone performed songs of his composition.
The Daily Globe reporter who covered the event described Boone’s playing and its effect as, “He plays in perfect time and interprets the most difficult selections with ease. He is very enthusiastic when about to begin a selection and his laughs at the end of his songs made a decided hit.” The reporter continued on the laugh, noting that it, “enraptured his audience.” Furthermore, “Boone has a constant motion of the body backward and forward as he plays and sings which affects him only in appearance.”
Boone was not the sole performer, but was joined by a Miss Emma Smith who sang several songs, and then was called back by the crowd to sing several more. Among the songs that Boone performed was the famed “Marshfield Tornado.” Composed after a disastrous tornado swept through Marshfield, Missouri, the reporter stated of it, “so realistic a portrayal of the wind and storm that several small children in the audience cried out in alarm.” Boone also exhibited imitations of various instruments on his piano, such as a violin, drum, and a fife. The black performer closed with “The Mocking Bird” and “Home, Sweet, Home.” For those Joplin residents who missed this performance, the article noted that Boone would be playing again a second night at Joplin’s First Christian church in South Joplin.
Source: Joplin Globe