The indoor performances of the Columbia Festival of the Arts began on Friday, June 20, 2015, at the Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia, MD.
The Blind Boys of Alabama formed in 1944 where they sang in the glee club at the Alabama Institute for the Blind in Talladega, Alabama. They were about 9 years-old.
They had their first single hit record in 1948. While the R&B artists in the 50’s and 60’s were pulling their sounds from black gospel music, The Blind Boys of Alabama, who could have easily gone the way of the Temptations and the Impression, stayed true to their roots. They were also very active in the Civil Rights Movement and performed for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Along the road of their career in 1983 they collectively played Oedipus in the musical Gospel at Colonus that received two Obie Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and a Tony Award. In the 1990s and 2000’ they began exploring some more contemporary sounds and developed a relationship with Peter Gabriel. They have performed the music of Pete Seeger, Dylan, Prince, and Tom Waite among many others. Their music is still primarily black gospel but don’t be surprised to hear other more modern sounds in their concerts and albums.
In this century they have earned 6 Grammys, been inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and received the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the American Foundation for the Blind. Three presidents have had them perform at the White House, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. They have also appeared on The Colbert Report and on Letterman.
A few of the original group are deceased. The present members are Jimmy Carter (original member), Ben Moore, Eric “Ricky” McKinnie, Paul Beasley, and Joey Williams on lead guitar and vocalist. Clarence Fountain, another original, tours with the group when physically able.
The group opened with “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield that was a hit for the Impressions in the 60s and it got the blood flowing. The next song was Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”and it had the audience standing up and clapping.
They sang several wonderful traditional black spiritual numbers, including “Way Down in the Hole” and “Walk in Jerusalem”, and then performed “I Shall Not be Moved” with a hard R&B sound. They also performed performed a spectacular rendition of the very recognizable “Amazing’ Grace” to the music of “House of the Rising Sun.” It was very different and a very gutsy move to experiment with the earthy secular music of New Orleans.
The Blind Boys of Alabama continue to make their music more contemporary. The finale was “If I Had a Hammer,” written by Pete Seeger. Well, this was not Peter, Paul and Mary’s “If I Had a Hammer.” It was performed similar to the Contours famous song “Shout!” When Carter sang, “If you feel the beat, come up and shake my hand,” he sat on the edge of the stage (with help because most of the group is really blind) and dozens came up to do just that, shake his hand. Everyone was standing, clapping, and dancing as if they were in church on Sunday back in Talladega, Alabama.
The band that backed them up was as good as any you will hear. They helped rock the house.
If you ever have a chance to see The Blind Boys of Alabama in concert, go!
Can I hear an “Amen”?
Opening the program was the Andy Poxon Band who performed last Saturday at the Lakefront. Tonight the young, only twenty years old, talented guitarist was joined by Robert Frahm on bass and vocals and Andrew Guterman on drums.
Running Time: 2 hours, with an intermission.
The Columbia Festival of the Arts continues this weekend and next. For schedule and ticket information, visit the the festival’s website. Tickets can be purchased online or by phone from Tickets.com, or by calling (800) 955-5566.
Columbia Festival of the Arts Part 1: Opening Night at the Lakefront by Susan Brall.
Columbia Festival of the Arts: Day Two at the Lakefront by Susan Brall.
Columbia Festival of the Arts: Part 3: Last Day at Lakefront by Susan Brall.