The Blind Boys of Alabama started singing gospel in 1939 in Talladega. Seventy-four years later, the group is still raising roofs around the world with its legendary harmonies and gospel message covering the spectrum of musical styles.
“We love what we do,” original member Jimmy Carter said in an interview with the Sydney (Australia) Opera House. “We have been singing gospel all these many years and we have not deviated from that and we don’t plan to. Gospel has a message that we like to carry to the people. That’s why we are going to continue to do it as long as we can …
“We try to make you feel something that you’ve never felt before … We want those who come sad to leave happy and those who come happy to stay that way.”
The Blind Boys will bring that spirited message to East Tennessee when they perform at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 26 at the Toy F. Reid Eastman Employee Center in Kingsport. The concert is co-sponsored by the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts and the City of Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts.
Reserved seat tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors 50 and older and $5 for students with ID.
“They are an excellent opening act for our season — the high energy, their reputation,” says Mary B. Martin School of the Arts Director Anita DeAngelis. “I think this will be one of the concerts that long-term will be on our list of most memorable.”
The Blind Boys of Alabama first got together at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939 and performed for nearly 40 years on the black gospel circuit, in churches, auditoriums and orchestra halls around the country. Since then, the group has had 30 albums, won five Grammys and four Dove Awards, has been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, performed for three presidents at the White House and been featured on “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “The Today Show,” “CBS Saturday Morning,” “60 Minutes” and “Austin City Limits.”
They have performed at Carnegie Hall and with other artists including Prince, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Allen Toussaint, Ben Harper, Lou Reed, Randy Travis and Jamey Johnson.
The Blind Boys are known the world wide for their interpretations of traditional gospel favorites such as “Amazing Grace,” “I Shall Not Walk Alone” and “Wade in the Water,” and less-traditional songs like Norman Greenbaum’s 1970 hit “Spirit in the Sky” and “House of the Rising Sun.” The New York Times said the gospel legends’ “close harmonies … leap heavenward.”
Their roof- and spirit-raising live shows appeal to audiences of all cultures and musical interests, as evidenced by appearances at festivals and other events in Morocco, London, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Italy, France, Germany, Lebanon, Finland, Belgium, Scotland, Turkey and across the U.S.
The “town and gown” collaboration between the Mary B. Martin School and the City of Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts is a “win-win” partnership, DeAngelis says.
“The City of Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts is doing some remarkable work. They are responsible for the Carousel Project in Kingsport and concerts and performances throughout the year …” DeAngelis says. “It would be difficult for our office to offer a concert in Kingsport without the assistance of another organization. The Office of Cultural Arts draws a different audience than we do. The Eastman employee center is larger than some of the venues we have in Johnson City.”
The City of Kingsport is pleased to collaborate with the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts to present the concert, as well, says Office of Cultural Arts Director Bonnie Macdonald.
“The team at ETSU has really raised the bar for accessibility of arts in our region,” Macdonald says.
The Blind Boys also have set the bar high — in the realm of gospel music. Reviews cite the group’s spirit as well as close harmonies.
“The Blind Boys of Alabama did not preach (not a word from the Bible was quoted), lecture or divide,” says reviewer Vern Hester in the Windy City Times online. “What they did do was uplift, spiritualize and embrace everyone in the room with such sincerity, heart and soul that even the hardest heart would have to be won over. You can argue about faith, religion and varieties all you want but the Blind Boys demonstrated what it is.”
The Office of Cultural Arts, a department of the City of Kingsport, connects, coordinates and engages the public with a creative community. It operates the EngageKingsport.com web site and regional event calendar, the Kingsport Renaissance Center, the Kingsport Farmer’s Market facility, the Kingsport Carousel Project, a public art program, concert and theatrical events including the Engage Kingsport Performing Arts Series, the annual Christmas Connection Arts & Crafts Show and the Carousel Fine Craft Show. It also offers a broad range of support to the area’s arts organizations, working in tandem with Engage Kingsport, the “Friends of the Cultural Arts” group, a private 501(c)3 non-profit organization, in order to facilitate their objectives.
For information about the ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, call (423) 439-TKTS (8587) or visit www.etsu.edu/martin. “Like” ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts on Facebook and follow it on Twitter at TheArtsAtETSU.