John William Boone was born on a federal camp in Miami, Missouri to Rachel Boone Hendricks, a runaway slave, who was owned by descendants of Daniel Boone. Once his mother moved to Warrensburg, Missouri, John was diagnosed with “brain fever” (which was later called cerebral meningitis). The only way his mother could save his life was to have his eyes removed. Baby John lost his sight, but not his intelligence.
His mother would provide him with musical instruments as a toddler, and he began making music at age 3. He imitated birds with a tin whistle and learned music tunes. It was only a matter of time before John Boone would start his own band. Recognizing his talent, the fathers of Warrensburg, Missouri got together and purchased a train ticket for John so he could study at the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis.
A gifted student, Boone wanted desperately to play music on the school’s piano, but they forced him to make brooms. He was taken on as a secret student by one of the older students and would play back music after only hearing it one time. One year, after returning from break, Boone found that the new superintendent banned blacks at the Missouri School for the Blind from playing the piano. So John Boone sought other ways to feed his love of music.