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December 21st, 2011 REED JACKSON | Music Stories
 

Primer: The Blind Boys of Alabama

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Formed: In 1939 in Talladega, Ala.

Sounds like: The wind on a warm summer’s night in the rural deep South, circa 1940-something.

For fans of: Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Blind Willie Johnson, Mahalia Jackson.

Latest release: Take the High Road, a country-inspired album featuring Willie Nelson and Hank Williams Jr. among others.

Why you care: The Blind Boys of Alabama have been performing gospel music for over 70 years. To put that in context, the boys started singing together at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind—the school’s name kind of puts things in perspective itself—four years before Keith Richards was born. Although the group’s seven-man lineup has understandably changed quite a bit since 1939 (four of the original members have passed), the band’s staying power in the music biz is undeniable—competing with legacies like that of Frank Sinatra and Cab Calloway. How have they managed to stay relevant for so long? For starters, they’re originators: Along with Ray Charles, the Boys were some of the first singers to mix gospel hymns with hard-driven R&B melodies, blues and doo-wop. They’re also open-minded; for each decade they’ve been around, the Boys have embraced the popular music of the time. They sang alongside Curtis Mayfield during the civil rights movement in the ’70s, rocked arenas with Prince in the ’80s and have recently performed with everyone from Ben Harper to Bob Dylan. The Boys’ sound has not changed much, though, which is really their main appeal: In these times of protest, their haunting Southern hymns of salvation are as relevant as ever.


SEE IT: The Blind Boys of Alabama play Mississippi Studios on Wednesday, Dec. 21. 8 pm. $45. 21+.

 
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