In the seven decades since the Blind Boys of Alabama first began singing together, America has witnessed a World War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Summer of Love; the Moon Landing, Vietnam, and the fall of the Berlin Wall; JFK, MLK, and Malcolm X; the invention of the jukebox, the atomic bomb, and the Internet. Through it all, the Blind Boys’ music has not only endured but thrived, helping both to distinguish the sound of the American South and to push it forward through the 20th century and well on into the 21st.
Consisting of Jimmy “Jimster” Carter, Ricky McKinnie, Paul Beasley, Rev. Julius Love, and newest addition Sterling Glass, and led by Music Director and lead guitarist Joey Williams, the group has 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 the 20th century and almost single-handedly created 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 persevered through seven decades to become one of the most recognized and decorated roots music 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. The Blind Boys are still going strong with their recordings and worldwide touring. Their latest album release is Almost Home, created in 2017 on their own BBOA Records label, in collaboration with Amazon Music. It was recently released widely, digitally, and physically via Single Lock Records in 2020. The album was recorded with four different GRAMMY-winning producers in four different cities. John Leventhal recorded the Blind Boys and their band in New York City, Vance Powell in Nashville, Chris Goldsmith in Seattle, and Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals.
The result is a collection that captures the band’s singular spirit and pulls off the masterful feat of looking backward while still sounding as vital and modern as ever. Almost Home features songwriting contributions from an exceptional collection of artists including Valerie June, North Mississippi Allstars, Phil Cook, John Leventhal, Marc Cohn, Ruthie Foster, and more. The album is composed primarily of original songs which focus on the remarkable journey of the band’s two surviving original members at the time, long-time leader Clarence Fountain (who has since passed away), and current leader Jimmy Carter. One of the only non-originals is “See By Faith,” an unrecorded Bob Dylan original given to them, released digitally only.
The Blind Boys have recently recorded and begun releasing a series of collaborative tracks starting with last year’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” with multi-Grammy-winning banjo bluegrass legend Béla Fleck, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best American Roots Performance. They recently released the song “Netola” and capped off a European & U.S. tour with Malian afro-pop artist Amadou & Mariam. The most recent collaboration is with the classical/hip-hop duo Black Violin, with the September 2022 releases of “The Message” and “We Are One.”
It’s without a doubt that the Blind Boys of Alabama are a pillar of American music and icons of gospel. The New York Times has said they “came to epitomize what is known as jubilee singing, a livelier breed of gospel music,” adding that “they made it zestier still by adding jazz and blues idioms and turning up the volume, creating a sound…like the rock ‘n’ roll that grew out of it.” The New Yorker simply called them “legendary.”
Label | BBOA Records
Discography | Blind Boys of Alabama on AllMusic.com