Composers Datebook®

Thomas Greene Wiggins

Composers Datebook - June 13, 2024


On this date in 1908, Thomas Greene Wiggins died in Hoboken, New Jersey at 59. Known as “Blind Tom Wiggins,” he was one of the most celebrated — and cruelly exploited — Black concert performers of the 19th century. 

Born enslaved in Georgia in 1849, Wiggins and his parents were offered for sale in an ad reading: “Price: $1,500 without Tom, $1,200 with him.” They were purchased by Georgia anti-abolitionist newspaper editor, James Bethune, who noticed the blind boy’s uncanny ability to mimic the sounds he heard played on the family’s piano.

At five, Tom was playing original music of his own and was exhibited as a child prodigy by Bethune throughout Georgia. During the Civil War, Tom played only in Southern states, earning his owner more than $100,000 a year. In the Antebellum years, he toured extensively here and abroad.

In addition to his own compositions, Wiggins played classical selections like Bach and Beethoven. Despite emancipation, Tom, who was perhaps autistic, remained a ward of and virtually indentured to the Bethune family for 38 years. By 1903, he was performing on the vaudeville circuit in New York and New Jersey before suffering fatal stroke in 1908.

Music Played in Today's Program

Thomas Greene ‘Blind Tom’ Wiggins (1849-1908): The Battle of Manassas; John Davis, piano; Newport Classics 85660

On This Day


  • 1761 - Czech composer and violinist Anton (Antonín) Wranitzky (Vranický, Wraniczky, Wranizky), in Nova Rise, Moravia. He studied with Haydn and Mozart in Vienna and was a friend of Beethoven.

  • 1766 - Austrian composer and pianist Anton Eberl. Some of his works were mistakenly (or perhaps deliberately) published as Mozart’s.

  • 1899 - Mexican composer and conductor Carlos Chávez, in Calzada de Tacuba, near Mexico City


  • 1962 - English composer and conductor Sir Eugene Goosens, 69, in Hillingdon

  • 2002 - American composer and conductor Ralph Shapey, 81, in Chicago

  • 2005 - American composer David Diamond, 89


  • 1784 - Mozart: Piano & Winds Quintet, Sonata for Two Pianos and the Piano Concerto No. 17, at the home of Mozart’s pupil, Barbara Ployer, outside Vienna. The Piano Concerto may have been premiered earlier that year on April 29, at a concert given by Mozart at Vienna’s Kärtnertor Theater in the presence of Emperor Joseph II.

  • 1855 - Verdi: opera Les Vêspres Siciliennes (The Sicilian Vespers), in Paris at the Grand Opéra

  • 1911 - Stravinsky: ballet Petrushka, in Paris at the Théatre du Châtelet, with Pierre Monteux conducting

  • 1923 - Walton: Façade, in London, with Dame Edith Sitwell reciting her poems, the composer conducting

  • 1923 - Stravinsky: Les Noces, at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris

  • 1942 - Honegger: opera Joan of Arc at the Stake (first staged production), in Zürich at the Stadttheater; This work was premiered in a concert performance in Basel on May 12, 1938

  • 1967 - David Ward-Steinman: Cello Concerto, in Toyko, by the Japan Philharmonic conducted by Milton Katims, with Edgar Lustgarten the soloist

  • 1986 - John Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine at Great Woods, Mansfield, Mass., with Pittsburgh Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

  • 1999 - first staging in Germany of the original German version of Kurt Weill’s opera Der Weg der Verheissung (The Eternal Road), in Chemnitz, Germany, with John Mauceri conducting. The English-language premiere staging had occurred at the Manhattan Opera House in New York City on January 7, 1937, in a production staged by Max Reinhardt that ran for 153 performances.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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