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The Blind Boys of Alabama have the rare distinction of being recognized around the world as both living legends and modern-day innovators. They are not just gospel singers borrowing from old traditions; the group helped to define those traditions in 20th century and to almost single-handedly create a new gospel sound for the 21st. Since the original members first sang together as kids at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in the late 1930s (including Jimmy Carter, who leads the group today), the band has perserved through seven decades to become one of the most recognized and decorated gospel groups in the world.
Touring throughout the South during the Jim Crow era of the 1940s and 1950s, the Blind Boys flourished thanks to their unique sound, which blended the close harmonies of early jubilee gospel with the more fervent improvisations of hard gospel. In the early 1960s, the band sang at benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and were a part of the soundtrack to the Civil Rights movement. But as the years passed many singers who had originated in the church began recording secular music and fans followed them, and the Blind Boys saw their audiences dwindle. However, the Blind Boys persevered and their time came again, starting in the 1980s with their starring role in the Obie Award-winning musical “The Gospel at Colonus,” which began a new chapter in their incredible history. It’s almost unbelievable that a group of blind, African-American singers, who started out touring during a time of of whites-only bathrooms, restaurants and hotels, went on to win five Grammy Awards, appear on Broadway, and perform at the White House for three different presidents.
Few would have expected them to still be going strong—stronger than ever, even—so many years after they first joined voices, but they’ve proved as productive and as musically ambitious in recent years as they did in the beginning. In 2001, they released Spirit of the Century on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label, mixing traditional church tunes with songs by Tom Waits and the Rolling Stones, and won the first of their Grammy Awards. The next year they backed Gabriel on his album Up and joined him on a world tour, although a bigger break may have come when David Simon chose their cover of Waits’ ‘Way Down in the Hole’ as the theme song for the first season of HBO’s acclaimed series The Wire. Subsequent Grammy-winning albums have found them working with Robert Randolph & the Family Band (2002’s Higher Ground), special guests including Aaron Neville and Mavis Staples (2003’s Go Tell It On The Mountain), Ben Harper (2004’s There Will Be a Light), and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (2007’s Down in New Orleans).
In 2013 the band worked with Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) to releaseI’ll Find A Way, a powerful collection of gospel and spiritual songs new and old, featuring some of the Blind Boys’ most fervent vocals as well as contributions by a new generation of Blind Boys fans, including Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, Patty Griffin, and Justin Vernon himself.
Their most recent album, Talkin’ Christmas!, a collaboration with Taj Mahal, continues the band’s streak of creating original and interesting work. It includes new versions of Christmas standards, covers of hidden gospel gems, and seven brand-new holiday songs - six of which are the first Christmas songs ever penned by the Blind Boys themselves. The new original songs include the title track ‘Talkin’ Christmas!,’ a funky tribute to the power of Christmas featuring Money Mark on keyboards, and the compassionate ‘What Can I Do?,’ which features Taj Mahal on vocals and is one of two songwriting collaborations with Stax Records soul legend William Bell. The album also features a hand-clapping rearrangement of the usually-slower classic ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ and a refreshingly intimate, acoustic version of ‘Silent Night.’
The Blind Boys' live shows are roof-raising musical events that appeal to audiences of all cultures, as evidenced by an international itinerary that has taken them to virtually every continent. The Blind Boys of Alabama have attained the highest levels of achievement in a career that spans over 75 years and shows no signs of diminishing. “We appreciate the accolades and we thank God for them,” says Jimmy Carter, a founding member and the Blind Boys’ current leader. “But we’re not interested in money or anything other than singing gospel. We had no idea when we started that we would make it this far. The secret to our longevity is, we love what we do. And when you love what you do, that keeps you motivated. That keeps you alive.”
At ReelAbilities, the Story of the Blind Boys of Alabama — March 1, 2017, The New York Times
“How Sweet the Sound: The Blind Boys of Alabama” tells the story of the Grammy-winning gospel group. The film, the closing-night feature on Wednesday, March 8, at JCC Manhattan’s ReelAbilities Film Festival, relates how the original members came together in the 1930s at an Alabama school for deaf or blind black students."
Celebrate Grammys 2017 with nominees Branford Marsalis Quartet, Kurt Elling, Joshua Redman, Blind Boys of Alabama, John Beasley — December 3, 2016, Los Angeles Times
“It's amazing it took this long for the rest of the world at large to "discover" this great group, but their awards and accolades are well deserved. Higher Ground is an excellent mixture of traditional gospel, soul, funk and folk with incredible vocals and playing to match.”
Finding Higher Ground with The Blind Boys of Alabama - Hawaii Public Radio, March 22, 2016
Blind Boys of Alabama are bringing their gospel brilliance to town - The Sydney Morning Herald, March 18, 2016
The Blind Boys of Alabama Celebrate 72 Years of Gospel - San Antonio Current, February 24, 2016
Gospel originators Blind Boys of Alabama head to Lafayette - The Advocate, February 18, 2016
Gospel's Blind Boys Meet Changing Times with Open Minds - NPR, October 02, 2015
After 70 years, Blind Boys of Alabama still singing for love - The Advocate, May 01, 2015
The Scene: Calvin Love and Michael Rault, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Cold Specks - Now Toronto, December 10, 2014
"...you'd have to be a robot not to be moved by the Blind Boys of Alabama - four blind octogenarians (ish) who've made a career since the 1940s with their spirited and soulful gospel blues songs."
VIDEO: The Blind Boys of Alabama - Jimmy Carter - The Colbert Report, November 11, 2013
Blind Boys of Alabama at the Cedar - City Pages, November 07, 2013
Actor Danny Glover, Blind Boys of Alabama among stars to attend Selma-to-Montgomery march's 50th anniversary - AL.com, February 26, 2015
I'll Find a Way
- There Will Be A Light (Virgin Records, 2004)
- Down in New Orleans (Time Life, 2008)
- Duets (Saguaro Road, 2009)
- Take the High Road (Saguaro Road, 2011)
"They proclaim their reverence in close harmonies and gusty improvisations that leap heavenward." - The New York Times
"Seeing the Blind Boys of Alabama in concert is part living history, part concert, all uplifting experience...the best moments come when the group join forces for stirring harmonies." -The Washington Post
"Typical gusto, honest, soulful music." -Mojo
"They made the rafters ring." - CMT.com