The Blind Boys of Alabama
The Blind Boys of Alabama (or simply Blind Boys of Alabama) is an American five-time Grammy Award-winning gospel group who first sang together in 1939. The Blind Boys have toured for seven decades and created an extensive discography. In 2016 the on-stage configuration of the group consisted of eight people: four blind singers—Jimmy Carter, Ben Moore, Eric "Ricky" McKinnie, Paul Beasley – guitarist and musical director Joey Williams, and a keyboardist, a bass guitarist, and a drummer.
The Blind Boys of Alabama
The Blind Boys of Alabama performing at the West Coast Blues & Roots Festival in 2011
|Origin||Alabama, United States|
|Genres||Gospel, blues, soul|
The Blind Boys of Alabama sing mainly spiritually uplifting songs, as well as giving encouragement to those with disabilities. Blind group member Ricky McKinnie said "Our disability doesn't have to be a handicap. It's not about what you can't do. It's about what you do. And what we do is sing good gospel music."
1930s–1940s: Meeting and formationEdit
The Blind Boys of Alabama first sang together in the school chorus in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega, Alabama. All around nine years old at the time, the founding members were Clarence Fountain, George Scott, Velma Bozman Traylor, Johnny Fields, Olice Thomas, and the only sighted member, J. T. Hutton. The earliest version of the group was known as "The Happyland Jubilee Singers" and originally performed for World War II-era soldiers at training camps in the South. The group's first professional performance was on June 10, 1944. In 1945, the members dropped out of school and began touring the gospel circuit.
In 1948, a Newark, New Jersey promoter booked two sets of blind gospel singers – the Happy Land Jubilee Singers from Alabama and the Jackson Harmoneers from Mississippi – and advertised the program as "Battle of the Blind Boys." A friendly rivalry sprouted between the two groups and continued henceforth. The two acts soon changed their names to the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and often toured together, occasionally swapping members. In 1948, The Blind Boys of Alabama recorded their first single, "I Can See Everybody's Mother But Mine" on the Veejay label. It was a hit and led to a series of recordings on various record labels.
1950s: The Black Gospel YearsEdit
During the 1950s black gospel music was popular, and the Blind Boys were one of the better known groups. Artists from pop and rock genres began to include aspects of black gospel music in their arrangements and black gospel artists began 'crossing over' to pop and rock music.
1960s–1970s: Staying true to their rootsEdit
During the 1960s and 1970s, soul music gained favor as a new type of secular black music. As a traditional gospel group, the fortunes of The Blind Boys of Alabama waned during these decades. Soul music was spiritual and socially engaged pop music, and its sales soon exceeded those of its gospel forerunners. Although soul music became a more financially successful route for many gospel artists, the Blind Boys of Alabama remained purely gospel singers. Fountain attributed their resistance to selling out to their lack of need, noting that they were happy and well-fed as they were and wanted to enjoy performing the music they sought to perform, as opposed to recording popular music solely for a paycheck.
In spite of shifting societal trends, The Blind Boys continued to be active in the 1960s and 1970s, releasing thirteen more albums through several labels, including the Vee-Jay label from 1963 to 1965. In the 1960s, the group's hard-driving gospel sound was imitated by others including Bobby "Blue" Bland and Marvin Gaye. In 1969, Fountain left the group for a decade to try to make it on his own, and the group re-formed with all the original members in the late 1970s.
The band also joined the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s, performing at benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Up until this point, the Blind Boys of Alabama had primarily played for black church audiences. The group performed at the World's Fair in Knoxville in 1982 and again in 1983. At that time the Five Blind Boys of Alabama began appearing collectively as Oedipus in the musical theater production "The Gospel at Colonus." The play was acclaimed as a landmark in American Musical History, receiving two OBIE Awards and nominations for a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. This production brought the Blind Boys to the attention of a mainstream audience, and Victor Brown who owned a nightclub that had been a church, The Church House Inn in Providence, Rhode Island who assisted them in getting off the chitlin circuit and playing other venues in the USA and Europe. With this exposure, the Blind Boys began working in several genres and alongside more popular artists.
The Blind Boys released an album, Deep River in 1992, which was nominated for a Grammy Award. The album was produced by Booker T. Jones, and featured a version of Bob Dylan's "I Believe In You." The Blind Boys continued experimenting with contemporary popular music with 1995's live album I Brought Him With Me and 1997's funk-leaning Holding On," both originally released on the House of Blues label.
2000s: Grammy eraEdit
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The group's founding member Clarence Fountain (born on November 28, 1929 in Tyler, Alabama) died on June 3, 2018 at the age of 88 from diabetes. Fountain had ceased performing on stage in 2007 but continued to record with the group in studio sessions.
2010s: Master tapes lost in fireEdit
Awards and honorsEdit
- 1994 – National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts
- 2002 – Grammy in Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for Spirit of the Century
- 2003 – Grammy in Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for Higher Ground
- 2003 – Gospel Music Hall of Fame induction
- 2003 – Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association in Traditional Gospel Album of the Year for Higher Ground
- 2004 – Grammy in Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for Go Tell It On the Mountain
- 2005 – Grammy in Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for There Will Be a Light
- 2005 – Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the American Foundation for the Blind
- 2005 – First Niarchos Prize for Survivorship from Her Majesty, Queen Noor of Jordan through The Landmine Survivors Network
- 2006 – Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association in Traditional Gospel Album of the Year for Atom Bomb
- 2009 – Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association in Traditional Gospel Album of the Year for Down in New Orleans
- 2009 – Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association in Traditional Gospel Recorded Song of the Year for "Free At Last"
- 2009 – Grammy in Best Traditional Gospel Album for Down in New Orleans
- 2009 – Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2010 – Alabama Music Hall of Fame induction
- Three U.S. Presidential administrations have invited the Blind Boys to the White House: President Clinton in 1994, President George W. Bush in 2002, and President Obama in 2010.
- 2016 – Grammy nominations for Best Roots Gospel Album ("God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson") and Best American Roots Performance for their track "Mother's Children Have a Hard Time" on the album
- 2017 – Grammy nomination for Best Americana Roots Performance for "Let My Mother Live" on their 2017 album, Almost Home
- Jimmy Carter – vocals
- Ben Moore – vocals
- Eric "Ricky" McKinnie – drums, percussion, vocals
- Joey Williams – lead guitar, vocals
- Stephen Raynard Ladson – bass
- Peter Levin – organ
- Paul Beasley – vocals
- Clarence Fountain (d. 2018) – vocals
- Johnny Fields (deceased) – vocals
- George Scott (d. 2005) – vocals
- Olice Thomas (deceased) – vocals
- Vel Bozman Traylor (deceased) – vocals
- Bishop Billy Bowers (deceased, July 2, 2013) – vocals
- Caleb Butler – rhythm guitar
- Samuel Butler Jr – rhythm guitar, songwriter and arranger, manager, second lead singer
- Roscoe Robinson – lead vocals
- Charles Porter – vocals
- Lamont Blount (deceased) – band manager
- Dwight Fields (deceased) – vocals
- 1948 I Can See Everybody's Mother But Mine – Coleman Records
- 1950 Sweet Honey in the Rocks – Palda Records
- 1950 Livin' On Mother's Prayers – Palda Records
- 1950 Come Over Here The Table Spread – Palda Records
- 1953 The Sermon
- 1953 When I Lost My Mother – Specialty Records
- 1954 Marching Up To Zion – Specialty Records
- 1954 Oh Lord, Stand By Me – Specialty Records
- 1958 My Mother's Train – Vee Jay Records
- 1959 God is On the Throne – Savoy Records
- 1959 The Original Blind Boys – Savoy Records
- 1963 (1957) You'll Never Walk Alone – HOB Records
- 1963 Old Time Religion – HOB Records
- 1963 True Convictions – HOB Records
- 1965 Can I Get a Witness? – HOB Records
- 1967 Church Concert in New Orleans (Live) – HOB Records
- 1969 Fix it Jesus Like You Said You Would – Keen Records
- 1969 Jesus Will Be Waiting
- 1970 In the Gospel Light
- 1970 The Five Blind Boys From Alabama
- 1970 The Soul of Clarence Fountain
- 1973 Best of Five Blind Boys of Alabama
- 1974 Precious Memories
- 1978 The Soldier Album – PIR Records
- 1981 Faith Moves Mountains – Messiah Records
- 1987 In the Hands of the Lord
- 1989 I'm a Changed Man – Wajji Records
- 1989 The Five Blind Boys of Alabama
- 1990 Brand New – Wajji Records
- 1990 I'm Not That Way Anymore – Atlanta International Records
- 1991 I am a Soldier
- 1991 Oh Lord, Stand By Me / Marching Up to Zion
- 1991 The Best of the Five Blind Boys
- 1992 Deep River – Elektra/Nonesuch Records
- 1993 Bridge Over Troubled Waters
- 1994 Alive in Person
- 1994 Blessed Assurance
- 1994 Don't Forget To Pray
- 1994 In the Gospel Light
- 1994 Soul Gospel
- 1994 Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
- 1995 1948–51
- 1995 I Brought Him With Me – House of Blues Music Company
- 1996 All Things Are Possible
- 1996 Golden Mements in Gospel
- 1997 Holdin' On – House of Blues Music Company
- 1998 Have Faith: The Very Best of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama
- 1999 Best of Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama
- 1999 Hallelujah: A Collection of Their Finest
- 2000 My Lord What a Morning
- 2001 Spirit of the Century – Real World Records
- 2001 You'll Never Walk Alone / True Convictions (reissue)
- 2002 Higher Ground – Real World Records
- 2003 Amazing Grace
- 2003 Go Tell it On the Mountain – Real World Records
- 2004 There Will Be a Light (with Ben Harper) – Virgin Records
- 2005 Live at the Apollo (with Ben Harper)
- 2005 Atom Bomb – Real World Records
- 2006 Just a Closer Walk with Thee, a compilation of work ranging from the years 1963–1965
- 2008 Down in New Orleans – TimeLife – Grammy winner
- 2009 Enlightnement – The Great American Music Co. (2 CDs)
- 2009 Duets (compilation of collaborations with other artists) Saguaro Road Records
- 2010 Faith Moves Mountains (reissue)
- 2011 Take the High Road – Saguaro Road Records
- 2013 I'll Find a Way – Sony Masterworks 
- 2014 Talkin' Christmas! (with Taj Mahal) – Sony Masterworks
- 2017 Almost Home – BBOA Records
- 2002 – Up – "Sky Blue"
- 2002 – Lifted: Songs of the Spirit – "Freedom Road"
- 2002 – WYEP Live and Direct: Volume 4 - On Air Performances – "Amazing Grace"
- 2002 – Solomon Burke : Don't Give Up On Me – "None of Us Are Free"
- 2003 – Brother Bear: An Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack – "Welcome" with Phil Collins and Oren Waters
- 2005 – Redemption Songs – "Nothing But The Blood"
- 2007 – Song of America – "Let Us Break Bread Together"
- 2014 – Songs from a Stolen Spring – "Freedom"
- 2016 – God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson – "Mother's Children Have a Hard Time"
Musical artists the Blind Boys of Alabama have collaborated with include: Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Michael Franti, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Thompson, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, Shelby Lynne, Me'Shell NdegeOcello, Danny Thompson, Duke Robillard, Michael Jerome, George Clinton, Robert Randolph, Les McCann, David Hidalgo, Charlie Musselwhite, Gift of Gab from Blackalicious, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Vince Gill, Leann Womack, Oak Ridge Boys, Jamey Johnson, Ben Harper, Susan Tedeschi, Toots Hibbert, Randy Travis, Timothy B. Schmit, Bonnie Raitt, Jars of Clay, Dan Zanes, Lou Reed, Marva Wright, Asleep At The Wheel, John P. Hammond, Allen Toussaint, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Hot 8 Brass Band, Bennie Pete, Carl LeBlanc, Billy Preston, Tom Petty, Peter Gabriel, Prince (musician), The Time Jumpers, K.D. Lang, Dr. John, Henry Butler, Joan Osborne, Third Day, Yo La Tengo, Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, Yonder Mountain String Band, Ray Benson, Ibrahim Ferrer, Jools Holland, Marc Cohn, Ruthie Foster.
- 2002 for Spirit of the Century
- 2003 for Higher Ground
- 2004 for Go Tell it On the Mountain
- 2005 for There Will Be a Light
- 2009 for Down in New Orleans
- 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award
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- Clarence Fountain Obituary
- Rosen, Jody (25 June 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
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- "Interview with Ricky McKinnie". UPTV, by Alicia Carson. Archived July 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, archived at the Wayback Machine.
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- Jurek, Thom. The Blind Boys of Alabama: I'll Find a Way at AllMusic. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
- Jurek, Thom. "Various Artists: God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson". AllMusic.com. Retrieved May 4, 2016.