The Blind Boys of Alabama “hit the road” in 1944 and have taken their harmonizing, soul-stirring gospel music worldwide ever since. God is leading them every step of the way, and the next stop is Springfield, says founding member and vocalist Jimmy Carter. The group will perform at the Sangamon Auditorium at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
The Blind Boys of Alabama “hit the road” in 1944 and have taken their harmonizing, soul-stirring gospel music worldwide ever since.
God is leading them every step of the way, and the next stop is Springfield, says founding member and vocalist Jimmy Carter. The group will perform at the Sangamon Auditorium at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
“I want to let the people of Springfield know that The Blind Boys of Alabama, we are on our way. ... We’re gonna all get together, and we’re going to have a great, great time,” Carter says.
A Grammy Award-winning group, The Blind Boys sing a fervent blend of traditional and contemporary gospel music to secular audiences to spread a message.
“I always tell the people that we like to make them feel something that they never felt before, and that’s the spirit of the living God,” Carter says. “We try to tell the people about Jesus Christ, and what I hope they come away with would be enlightenment that Jesus ... he died that we might live.”
The Blind Boys started singing in the late 1930s at Alabama’s Talladega Institute for the Blind before first touring in 1944. Carter says the group was influenced by different vocal quartets.
“We started singing in a choir. After we left the choir, they formed the male chorus, so we started singing in that. That led to our decision to try to go professional.”
Then, as now, the group didn’t sing to make money, but because the members love gospel music. If one song could serve as the group’s anthem, it would be “Amazing Grace,” Carter says, because of God’s grace, which they don’t deserve.
But they’ve merited awards for their work.
Five of their albums — “Down In New Orleans,” “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” “Higher Ground,” “Spirit of the Century” and “There Will Be a Light” (a collaboration with Ben Harper) — have garnered Grammy Awards. The Recording Academy gave The Blind Boys a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
The group’s new recording, “Duets,” is a collection of collaborations that features The Blind Boys performing with artists such as Lou Reed, Ben Harper, Randy Travis and Bonnie Raitt.
One of the first such duets was the 1994 pairing of The Blind Boys and Bonnie Raitt on “When The Spell is Broken,” from the Richard Thompson tribute album “Beat the Retreat.”
Obstacles didn’t hold The Blind Boys back from their initial mission of sharing the gospel’s “good news.”
“When we started out, we were in the segregated South. You couldn’t stay in a decent place. You couldn’t eat in a decent place. You had to go in the back of a restaurant and all that,” says Carter, who admits to being “past 50.”
“We understood that. We realized that. ... We just went through that, and God saw us through it.”
The Blind Boys had the chance to steer from their course of winning souls for Jesus Christ by crossing over into pop music, similar to how Sam Cooke crossed to pop music from the Soul Stirrers.
The Blind Boys turned down those offers.
“When Sam Cooke changed, we had the same opportunity. We were in the same studio with him, but we didn’t change. We turned it down. Sam did it, and Sam was a success,” Carter says.
“We have not deviated from what we set out to do. We’re not going to deviate from it. We are a gospel group, and we are going to stay a gospel group until God says, ‘That’s it. That’s enough.’”
Tamara Browning can be reached at (217) 788-1534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.