Recognizing the Remarkable: Thomas Wiggins
Words by Joshua Thompson
Of all the featured artists in Season One of Melanated Moments in Classical Music, I find Thomas Wiggins to be the most compelling and truly remarkable. Whether one analyzes the structure and form of his piano works or dives into the socio-historical significance of his personal life, it is impossible to ignore the complex set of circumstances that quite literally played a defining role in the trajectory of his life and beyond. As with most bios that begin “born into slaver…” (a phrase that immediately conjures up the painful and brutal realities of an unshakable past), the life of Thomas Wiggins is set against an all too familiar and therefore, unremarkable American backdrop.
As an enslaved person, the expectation of production by exploitation was a given, but Wiggins was a challenge to the established order from birth. Born May 25, 1849 in Harris County, Georgia, Wiggins was Black, blind, and nonverbal, yet he disrupted the traditional methods of commodifying Black bodies. I find this man’s ability to communicate through music at a more effective level than most do verbally to be mind-blowing. What was (and quite frankly, still is) considered a debilitating deficit – many believe Wiggins was a person living with autism – was actually a living example of the inherent ingenuity and capability of the human mind, body and spirit found in all of us regardless of circumstances.
The life of Thomas Wiggins is one of brilliance juxtaposed against violent exploitation. Yet despite all of that, Wiggins birthed stunningly accurate musical reflections of his life and times much like the painter who crafts detailed portraits, landscapes and still lifes. For me, researching, programming, and performing his works from this comprehensive and holistic vantage point, makes recognizing the remarkable all the more rewarding and inspiring.
Listen to A Circus Act No Longer – Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins from Season One of Melanated Moments in Classical Music on your favorite podcast platform.
Learn more about Joshua Thompson here.