The Blind Boys of Alabama
Fri., Feb. 24 - 8:30 p.m.
U-Idaho Kibbie Dome
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Banner Photo: The Blind Boys of Alabama. (Jimmy Carter second from the right.)
Photo by Erika Goldring.
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The Blind Boys of Alabama
Gospel Legends to Perform in Jazz Festival’s “Soul Explosion” Night
By Lisa Heer
When the Blind Boys of Alabama take the stage on February 24 as part of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, not only will audiences be treated to one of the most legendary gospel groups performing today, but will also be witness to a bit of history.
The group formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939, where, as founding member Jimmy Carter puts it, “blind children came to get educated.”
Not willing to reveal his actual age, Carter said he joined the group when he “was a very, very. . . very young man.”
At the school, the group members met in the school’s mixed choir and then progressed to a men’s choir before coming together. Inspired by their belief system as well as other gospel groups at the time, the Blind Boys started taking their music on the road in 1944.
“We were all grown up in a Christian environment . . . there was a quartet, the Golden Gate quartet, that we used to listen to. We idolized those guys, and figured if they could make a profession out of it, we could too,” said Carter with a laugh.
Although they gained early success, it wasn’t easy.
“Well we started out in the segregated South, we couldn’t sleep in decent hotels or eat in decent restaurants,” he said. “We’d sing a program at night, then had to sleep in run-down hotels and rooming hotels. We ate at second class restaurants, and when we ate at first class restaurants, we ate in the back.”
Despite these challenges, the group followed their passion to perform.
“We understood all that [the segregation],” said Carter. “But we loved what we were doing. We accepted the sacrifice we had to make . . . and it was a sacrifice, indeed . . . but we were still touching lives. We thought it was worth it.”
The sacrifice improved a few years later when the group performed a Greek tragedy called Gospel at Collonius.
“We got a chance to take this play to Broadway. That was the starting point of getting to the mainstream,” said Carter.
Up to that point, they were only able to perform to black audiences. Carter explained that even though white audiences had wanted to see them, they weren’t allowed to perform for them. Broadway was able to change that.
“Then all people got a chance to see the Blind Boys,” Carter said.
The Blind Boys were then able to share their passion on a nation-wide scale. They’ve won five Grammy Awards, been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and were celebrated by the National Endowment for the Arts with Lifetime Achievement Awards. They’ve appeared on 60 Minutes, The Tonight Show, and numerous late night talk shows. Not to mention, they’ve been invited to play at the White House via requests of two presidents.
When Carter was asked why, 70 years later, their gospel music was still able to connect with people of today’s generation he replied:
“Everybody—White, Black, Brown, Yellow, Red—everybody has a little part of God in them, God created us all. We are all His children, when we sing His songs you can feel it. What goes from the heart reaches to the heart.”
The Blind Boys will perform at the “Soul Explosion” night at the Kibbie Dome, which will also include the Ike Stubblefield Jazz Trio, featuring special guests Jeff Clayton, Wycliffe Gordon, James Morrison and Rickey Woodard.
“We want everyone to know the Blind Boys are on their way,” said Carter. “We wanna see a big crowd, and Idaho will never be the same.”