The Blind Boys of Alabama
Spreading the Gospel for Decades
Listen to David D'Arcy report.
The Blind Boys of Alabama in concert, February 2001. From left, George Scott, group founder Clarence Fountain and Jimmy Carter.
Photo: Real World Records
Hear cuts from their latest album:
Jesus Gonna Be Here
July 19, 2001 -- The Blind Boys of Alabama have been singing gospel music together for more than 60 years, ever since they met each other at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind. If they weren't singing a capella, they were usually accompanied by nothing more than a solo guitar.
But times change. Now the three surviving members of the group have teamed up with a blues band, and they're turning pop and traditional blues songs into gospel.
Setting religious lyrics to an old blues tune is nothing new. But as 71-year-old singer Clarence Fountain explained to NPR's David D'Arcy, anything can be turned into a gospel song if the words are sacred.
Original members Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott were students when they began singing for soldiers stationed in Alabama during World War II. They made their first recording in 1948, when they were still teenagers. The group has been touring ever since, and Fountain says it's been a blessing.
"All the time we've been on the road, I've never seen a hungry day in my life," Fountain told D'Arcy. "God loves us and will take care of us."
Founder Clarence Fountain says his secret to the group's success is "we get our power from God."
Photo: Real World Records
For decades, the Blind Boys performed mostly in churches. and were heard primarily on religious radio stations.
The group finally crossed over to a more mainstream audience in 1983, when they co-starred in "The Gospel at Colonus", a hit Broadway adaptation of a Greek tragedy.
Mainstream music artists like Tom Petty, who chose the group to open for his band, have helped to bring the Blind Boys to an even larger audience.
The Blind Boys are scheduled to perform all over the world in 2001 and will be featured artists at the global WOMAD Festival, created by musician Peter Gabriel. Gabriel's record label, Real World Records, released the group's latest CD.
The group has been tempted to sing secular songs before -- they did sing pop songs for their military audiences during the war -- but Fountain says sticking with gospel looks like the right decision now.
Nevertheless, the Blind Boys of Alabama plan to continue working with blues and pop musicians -- just as long as the lyrics are sacred.
The Blind Boys of Alabama pages on Real World Records, the group's record label
The Rosebud Agency Blind Boys pages