Many listeners first heard the Blind Boys of Alabama sing on “Way Down in the Hole,” the jaunty theme song of TV series “The Wire.” But for this storied gospel group, the theme song is just a footnote in a long and accomplished career. The Blind Boys of Alabama have won five Grammys, performed for three different U.S. presidents, collaborated with the likes of acclaimed singer-songwriters Ben Harper and Solomon Blake, and earned entry into the Gospel Hall of Fame. Through over 70 years of song, the multigenerational group has never strayed from its gospel roots. According to lead singer Jimmy Carter, the group has one aim: “We just want to make you feel the spirit of the living Lord.” The Blind Boys of Alabama will perform at the Berklee Performance Center on March 23rd at 8 pm.
The group formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in the small town of Talladega, Alabama, and consisted of five singers and an acoustic guitar. The band was actively involved in the civil rights movement in the ’60s, performing at benefits for Martin Luther King, Jr., and gained a wider audience in the ’80s for involvement in the play “The Gospel at Colonus.”
Today, the Blind Boys of Alabama are a full gospel band of vocalists and instrumentalists, many of whom are blind. They group is currently on tour for their latest album release, “Take the High Road.” It is famous for its more modern collaborations because, unlike the members of other traditional gospel groups, Jimmy Carter and other group members believe that the essence of gospel is found in the message of the songs, not the style. They have recorded collaborations in genres ranging from reggae to rock to country. However, they still consider themselves to be true to the gospel spirit. “We are a traditional Gospel group,” Carter said. “Nothing but.”
Carter has taken the reigns from original lead singer and founding member Clarence Fountain and has been spreading the gospel message with the Blind Boys of Alabama since he was a teenager. Carter lived in Boston for much of his life and looks forward to returning for the group’s upcoming concert.