I first discovered The Blind Boys of Alabama on the 2004 Ben Harper album, "There Will Be a Light". I am not a church goer but there is no resisting the way the music of The Blind Boys's makes you feel. Inspired, moved...their music makes you want to do good things.
The Blind Boys of Alabama consists of seven musicians, including three blind singers, original founding member Jimmy Carter, Ben Moore, and Eric "Ricky" McKinnie, the guitarist and musical director, Joey Williams, as well as a keyboard player, a bass player, and a drummer. One of the surviving founding members of the group, Clarence Fountain, tours occasionally with the current lineup, as his health allows. The self-proclaimed goal of the group is to “spiritually uplift audiences”. Gospel is the name of the game for The Blind Boys. Since the beginning it's been their genre and they are sticking to it. Recently I spoke with Jimmy Carter, a founding member and the Blind Boys' leader for five years now, and he told me that gospel, “is the good news from God. Gospel music means to us that Jesus died so we could live. And live we do. That is our message that we try to convey to the people”.
Obviously I was a late bloomer to The Blind Boys of Alabama. The “boys” have been singing together for about 75 years. They met first met and sang together at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega in the late 1930s. They have been going strong ever since. When I asked Carter some highlights of their expansive career he was unable to name just one. “I have several highlights. I would say the first one would be when we won our 1st Grammy Award. We started singing in 1944 but we didn’t get a grammy until 2001. That was a long time to wait but better late than never. We have five now so that’s good. Another highlight is when we got to sing at the White House. We’ve sang there three times, for three different Presidents (Clinton, Bush and Obama). Also, getting a lifetime achievement award is high on our list”.
The Blind Boys of Alabama started with five members and one acoustic guitar. Over the years they have evolved into having a complete band but never vary from the type of music they play. Carter proclaims, “You have all types of gospel now. We can do it all. We can sing to anybody, any culture. You want the gospel and we can get it to you”.
I am fairly certain there has never been another band that has stayed popular, relevant and touring for the length of time that The Blind Boys have. “We have been out here a long time and people ask the question what keeps you going, you haven’t slowed down any and I tell them that if you love what you do, it keeps you motivated. I love to get out there and get the response from the fans. We have a segment where I go out in the crowd and shake hands and that is a great thing for me. I love people, I love to meet people. I think that all of that keeps The Blind Boys going on and we plan to go on as long as we can”, is the explanation given from Carter for the reason for their long lasting career.
Catch The Blind Boys of Alabama on Friday March 21st at NKU's Greaves Concert Hall. Tickets to see the Blind Boys of Alabama at Greaves Concert Hall are $30 with proceeds benefitting WNKU. Tickets are on sale at Cincyticket.com all Cincy Ticket outlets, and by phone at 1-888-428-7311. It is an all-ages show.