Gospel's Blind Boys Meet Changing Times With Open Minds Formed in the 1930s during Jim Crow, The Blind Boys of Alabama have been singing gospel for seven decades. For the new album I'll Find a Way, the group has teamed up with a younger artist: Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.

Gospel's Blind Boys Meet Changing Times With Open Minds

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In this country, our colleague David Greene has some new music from an old group.


THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA: When they put old Daniel in the lion's den, Lord put a rainbow in the clouds...


These men may be in their 70s and 80s, but they're still the Blind Boys of Alabama. The original members met in the 1930s at the Alabama Institute for the Blind. They have won five Grammys and plenty of other awards for their gospel music. Jimmy Carter, the musician, not the former president, was there from the beginning.

JIMMY CARTER: When the Blind Boys started out, we weren't even thinking about all these accolades and all that stuff. We just wanted to get out and sing gospel and tell the world about gospel music. But changes came and we had to change with the times.

GREENE: Think of the times their music has lived through. They formed in the Jim Crow era, they lent their voices to the civil rights movement, and now they've seen the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

CARTER: I was never fortunate enough to meet Dr. King, but we were, you know, at some of his rallies and I hope that our music helped to change, you know, what was. You know, we've come a long way. We have a long way to go, but we've come a long way and I hope that we have been a part of that.

GREENE: What a voice. He and the other Blind Boys are out this week with a new album. There's some old gospel favorites, but there's also a modern - well, relatively modern - song, Bob Dylan's "Every Grain Of Sand."


THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA: I have come to understand that every hair is numbered, like every grain of sand...

GREENE: That younger voice you hear there is indie musician Justin Vernon, the front man for the band Bon Iver. Vernon produced the new Blind Boys album.

JUSTIN VERNON: I was touched and I was honored to be thought of. I've been kind of on a roll doing my own thing for a while and I hadn't had that magical opportunity in life to sort of be tested by a great thing. And making a record with The Blind Boys of Alabama was that great thing for me.

GREENE: Jimmy Carter told NPR a few years ago that he didn't love contemporary music. He seems to be coming around.

CARTER: I have an old saying that says the mind is like a parachute, it works better when it's open. So we are open for any kind of material, you know, no matter who the artist is. As long as they have good material and we like it, that's fine.


THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA: I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame, and every time I pass that way I always hear my name...

GREENE: The Blind Boys of Alabama. Their new album, "I'll Find A Way," is out this week.

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