“Was blind, but now I see” flow the six simple words of “Amazing Grace.” The familiar song so well known it almost trips across the tongue. Saturday night at the Black Swamp Arts Festival, the five-time Grammy Award-winning Blind Boys of Alabama will show Bowling Green what they see through the singing of their music.
The Blind Boys sing gospel music, sometimes said to be the Saturday night blues sung on Sunday morning.
“We give hope where there is despair. … We are all about touching people’s lives,” said Jimmy Carter, the nearly 90-year-old current leader and founding member. The group has been recording for over 70 years.
“It will be a mix. You’re gonna hear some songs from the new record, of course. We love to sing traditional gospel and you’re gonna hear some of that,” Carter said.
“Almost Home” tells the story of the Blind Boys of Alabama in song. Hours of interview footage were taken of the two surviving original members, Carter and Clarence Fountain. The interviews were then broken down and turned into song, with contributions from a dream team of writers, including Valerie June, the North Mississippi Allstars, Phil Cook, John Leventhal, Marc Cohn and more. It was made by four different producers, in four different cities, including the use of the FAME studios in Muscle Shoals.
While the Blind Boys have collaborated with everyone from Mavis Staples and Stevie Wonder to Prince and Lou Reed, early influences included the Golden Gate Quintet and the Soul Stirrers, but there were also The Blind Boys of Mississippi.
The two groups even promoted a rivalry, sometimes touring together. Carter emphasized it as being friendly, improving both groups.
Their new song, “Stay on the Gospel Side,” tells the story of how the Blind Boys have been regularly approached to do more mainstream styles of music, especially pure blues, but decided to stick with only gospel.
“The original Blind Boys, we were brought up in a Christian environment and we said to ourselves, ‘No matter how many setbacks we have, we will sing gospel,’ because we were called by God to do that,” Carter said.
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