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 (the sole remaining original member), 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 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 formation
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, Jimmy Carter, 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 Years
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 roots
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.
In 1994, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a National Heritage Fellowship to Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama.
2000s: Grammy era
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.
Awards and honors
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 HomeCurrent members
Jimmy Carter – vocals
Ben Moore – vocals
Eric "Ricky" McKinnie – drums, percussion, vocals
Joey Williams – lead guitar, vocals
Trae Pierce – bass
Peter Levin – organ
Paul Beasley – vocals–Source:
Jimmy Carter – vocals
Clarence Fountain (d. 2018) – vocals
Johnny Fields (deceased) – vocals
George Scott (d. 2005) – vocals
Olice Thomas (deceased) – vocals
Vel Bozman Traylor (deceased) – vocals–Source:
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