Mixing Gospel with Country: The Blind Boys of Alabama

Blind Boys of Alabama open Shenandoah Valley Music Festival July 20

The Blind Boys of Alabama, with Jimmy Carter, center.

By Sarah Hasnain
Special to WC Report

(Managing editor’s note: Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award winners The Blind Boys of Alabama will headline opening night of the 2012 Shenandoah Valley Music Festival on July 20. Deanna Bogart, described as playing with “luster, sophistication and soul” by the Washington Post, will open the evening. The Blind Boys of Alabama have five Grammy Awards, have sung for two presidents and been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In addition, they have made appearances on The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, 60 minutes, The Grammy Awards telecast and their own PBS holiday special. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by phone or online. Call (540) 459-3396 or visit http://www.musicfest.org. We received this interview with Jimmy Carter of the Blind Boys from festival staff.)

Who would have thought a band of gospel singers could come out with a country album? The Blind Boys of Alabama have done just that and turned it into one of the most extraordinary pieces they have recorded in their lifetime.

For 60 years, they spent their time in the gospel, R&B and rock circuit. However, their secret love for country music was not recognized until 2011 when they came out with their first ever country gospel album, Take The High Road. This mix of modern and traditional country has merged well with their gospel rooted sound.

I was able to talk to Jimmy Carter, founding member of the Blind Boys of Alabama to understand the change with the new album.

“All my life, I’ve loved country music,” confesses Carter. “I have been lobbying to do a country music album from the very beginning and I am glad it has finally happened.”

The Blind Boys formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939. In addition to their myriad awards listed above, they have managed to keep a hand on the pulse of changing musical times, even covering one of WC Report Editor Roger Bianchini’s favorite songs, “Driftin’ ” by Jimi Hendrix (in fact, Roger tells us the Blind Boy’s version still brings a tear to his eye every time he hears it).

Although they have gained a slew of recognition and performed with many country artists, they have never crossed the line and committed on doing a project inspired by the country genre until now. This landmark recording has enabled them to cross traditional boundaries and create a diverse harmony fit for all listeners.

After meeting rising country music star Jamey Johnson who sang “Down by the Riverside” with them at the induction ceremony in Montgomery, plans began to emerge.

It was the experience of sharing the stage with Johnson that prompted the Blind Boys to seek his services in order to help make the country gospel album a real deal.
“Jamey Johnson made it effortless for us by getting us all together in the recording studio and finding which sounds would go well with our voices. We became a family throughout the whole process,” Carter said.

Therefore, it was very natural to blend the two music genres together. Carter was thrilled to be around musicians who had a common feel for the country gospel sound. “Most country artists have a spark in their hearts for gospel so it made the recording process much easier.”

One of Carter’s favorite experiences with the country gospel album was being able to record in Nashville for the first time. “I had never been at the famous RCA studio and all of a sudden I’m meeting all these wonderful country musicians that were willing to collaborate with us,” expresses Carter, “it definitely felt like a once in a lifetime experience.”

Carter’s favorite songs on the album are “Take The High Road” and “I Know a Place.”
“I had a very emotional experience recording those two songs because it has such a good message to it for our audiences,” confesses Carter. “I’m always excited when per-forming those songs on stage.”

The Blind Boys of Alabama will be coming to the Orkney Springs stage for the second time in their career. They were here once before in 2007.

“Expect a lot of new songs from our album, Take The High Road. In addition, we will be mixing a lot of the new with the old by bringing back some of our traditional gospel sounds from our older albums,” revealed Carter.

The country gospel album has been a hit so far with the fans. Even with all the successful albums and awards assembled together, The Blind Boys are still not done yet.

“We are currently in the talks about doing an album with our top hits from the past 70 years. It’s not official yet but we will hopefully make it happen,” stated Carter.

It’s that work ethic which enables The Blind Boys to involve everybody into their music and keep the connection closer together. They were able to bring two different styles of music back together and leave a message that can touch people’s lives forever.

The Blind Boys of Alabama, with special guest Deanna Bogart, will come and perform at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival in Orkney Springs, Va. on July 20th at 8 p.m.

One comment

  1. We attended both performances at Orkney Springs. You have such passion and rhythm in your souls. You are delightful to hear. We especially liked your version of “Amazing Grace” song to the music of “House of the Rising Sun”. Fabulous!

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