By MICHAEL FREEMAN (WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – A local historian spent hours scouring libraries across the Midwest for any mention of the famed ragtime pianist, John William “Blind” Boone, culminating in the final chapter of a recently published book.
Mike Shaw spoke Sunday to members of the Johnson County Historical Society about the process of co-authoring the final chapter of a new Blind Boone biography. The book, “Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone,” was published this year by Truman University Press.
The Historical Society gathering, which took place in the old courthouse on Main Street, also served as the annual membership meeting for the 92-year-old organization.
Shaw, who is president of the board, said he became interested in the famed blind pianist during renovations of Warrensburg’s Blind Boone Park in 2000. Since then, he’s spent countless hours searching for any mention of Blind Boone.
Mapping out the life and lineage of Boone quickly became a pastime for Shaw.
“I’m not the one who’s most interested in him,” Shaw said, “but I happen to have the time to do the research.”
According to Shaw’s findings, Blind Boone was much more than just a talented ragtime pianist. Boone was generous, outgoing and remembered every person he met.
“If he shook your hand and talked to you, he would remember you years later,” Shaw said.
Blind Boone performed all over the country throughout his life, but he spent his childhood years living in Warrensburg. In fact, it was the generosity of the city of Warrensburg that helped Boone became a great musician.
Records show that citizens of Johnson County raised the money that paid for Boone to attend the St. Louis School for the Blind. It was at this school where he realized his talent for playing piano.
The style of music Boone played was unique in his time, Shaw said.
“Boone’s favorite composers were the great European masters,” he said. “He was one of the first to blend African American music with the European music of the time.”
Shaw said proceeds of the book benefit the upkeep of Boone’s home in Columbia, Mo. The city of Columbia renovated the home of Blind Boone in 2000.
In other business, the Historical Society discussed the renovation of the former Davis grocery store across the street from the old courthouse. Shaw has started repairing the brick walls on the old store.
“The intention now is to get it weatherproof,” Shaw said. “We can’t admit the public to the building until it is brought up to code.”
Eventually, the Historical Society wants to renovate the building to accommodate a commercial tenant.
“I haven’t met anyone yet who is against it,” Shaw said. “But it is going to be a while.”
The Historical Society also discussed the budget.
“Each month it costs us about $5,000 to keep things going,” said Janice Hudson, treasurer. “That is without any of the repairs we have to make.”
To raise funds, the Historical Society is having a chili and pie supper from 5-7p.m. Saturday at the Culp Building. Tickets are $20.
To purchase a copy of the book, “Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone,” visit http://tsup.truman.edu/.