The Blind Boone Ragtime Festival returns to Columbia this Sunday, honoring a local and national legend. The festival features concerts and seminars from world-class ragtime performers both Monday and Tuesday. It is named for John William “Blind” Boone, a ragtime musician who lived in Columbia around the turn of the twentieth century and helped pioneer the genre.
Boone had both eyes removed at a young age to relieve pressure on his brain from a fever he was battling. Despite his blindness, though, he learned to play the piano and produced many songs as the genre became popular in the early 1900s.
Lucille Salerno organizes the Blind Boone Ragtime Festival every year. She says she hopes the festival educates Columbia residents about ragtime, specifically Blind Boone’s contribution to the genre.
“He was a pioneer in so many ways, and we should be shouting his name from the rooftops, just as New Orleans makes the world know of the greatness that lived in their midst,” Salerno said. “But why we’re shy about that, I’m not sure.”
The festival comes after the Columbia City Council approved the use of the city’s budget surplus from 2012 for renovations to Boone’s former home on North Fourth Street. Fifth Ward Councilmember Laura Nauser says the renovation will benefit the community by helping people remember local history and bringing economic growth.
“It will bring Blind Boone to the forefront and hopefully that will give us some other opportunities,” Nauser said.
The festival kicks off on Sunday with a pre-festival celebration, with proceeds funding the 2014 festival.