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The heart, soul, and gospel of The Blind Boys of Alabama

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[Left to Right] Joey Williams, Benjamin Moore, Jimmy Carter, Paul Beasley, and Eric McKinnie are all members of the musical group The Blind Boys of Alabama. This group was founded in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind where the founding members met as children.

[Left to Right] Joey Williams, Benjamin Moore, Jimmy Carter, Paul Beasley, and Eric McKinnie are all members of the musical group The Blind Boys of Alabama. This group was founded in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind where the founding members met as children.

Photo courtesy of blindboys.com

Photo courtesy of blindboys.com

[Left to Right] Joey Williams, Benjamin Moore, Jimmy Carter, Paul Beasley, and Eric McKinnie are all members of the musical group The Blind Boys of Alabama. This group was founded in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind where the founding members met as children.

Kyle Brusco, Staff Writer

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The gospel music group The Blind Boys of Alabama performed Saturday, Nov. 3 at 7:30pm in the Center for Faith and Life Main Hall as a part of Luther’s Center Stage Series.

The group currently has eight members: four vocalists who are blind and four visually unimpaired musicians. The vocalists are Eric “Ricky” McKinnie, Paul Beasley, Jimmy Carter, and Benjamin “Ben” Moore. The instrumentalists are guitarist and musical director Joey Williams, bass guitarist Stephen Ladson, drummer Austin Moore, and Richard Gibbs, who plays keyboards.

The Blind Boys of Alabama are an internationally renowned, Grammy Award-winning gospel music group formed in 1939. The band was formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind and has been performing together for the last 79 years. One of the group’s original members, Jimmy Carter, is still an active leader of the group.  He is approaching 90 years old. This group has been performing constantly during an age of significant transition in music.

“It’s incredible because the Blind Boys predate rock ‘n’ roll,” Director of Campus Programming Paul Atkins said. “And they have been active since then. It’s not like they’ve taken any breaks.” 

Photo courtesy of blindboys.com
The Blind Boys of Alabama have won five Grammy Awards, not including their Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.

The Blind Boys have won five Grammy Awards and have received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.  They have collaborated with musicians like Stevie Wonder and Prince, and have performed for Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. They are considered by some to be one of the greatest gospel music groups of all time, and by including other genres into their standard gospel repertoire, they “made it zestier still by adding jazz and blues idioms,” according to a New York Times review.

They perform uplifting spiritual songs in the gospel genre. However, they also have elements of soul, blues, and jazz music in their performances. They are a group that utilizes styles from several different genres, and because of this, attendee Elsa Leyhe (‘19) didn’t know what to expect from the show.

“I listened to a few songs online and thought it was going to be more blues-like,” Leyhe said. “I didn’t expect it to be the blend of styles that it was, and I certainly didn’t expect the energy they brought.”

Photo courtesy of blindboys.com
Leader of the group Jimmy Carter [center] was a part of the original group that formed 79 years ago.

The energetic performance began with the Blind Boys, wearing matching suits and sunglasses, led slowly onstage by their manager in a single-file line. There were four chairs in the front of the stage and a drum, a piano, an electric keyboard, and a bass all on stage behind the singers. In a low, gravelly voice, Carter talked directly to the audience, telling jokes and stories, drawing laughter and cheers. Afterwards, he instructed the audience to “sit back and relax, kick off your shoes if you want, and enjoy the show.” 

Basking in the warm stage lighting, the Blind Boys got on their feet and started to sing “Spirit in the Sky.” They danced during every number while showing off their vocal talents. They repeatedly called for cheers from the audience and routinely repeated lines from their songs until they got a loud enough reaction.

During this performance, The Blind Boys showed off a unique brand of style, swagger, and class, and the music was well received by audience members, including Noah Parulski (‘22). 

“I loved it,” said Parulski. “Their dynamic was amazing, they [got] the whole crowd involved, which you don’t get from just any [performers]. The amount of energy they brought to the stage was fantastic.”

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