When the Blind Boys play the Belly Up Tavern this Sunday, you should be watching, too.
Founded in 1939 by students at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega, the Blind Boys of Alabama have been singing soul-flavored gospel ever since.
Founding member Jimmy Carter remembers the school like it was yesterday. “I was 7 years old. When my mom walked off and left me, I thought the world had come to an end." And while conditions at the school were harsh, the healing took place in the choir. Soon, the boys realized their calling, and at the age of 14, they hit the road.
For a group whose three main vocalists and drummer are blind, their achievements are astonishing. Not only did they escape a troubled childhood, but the group has gone on to release nearly 30 albums. Their big break came in the 1980s after appearing in the Obie award-winning musical The Gospel at Colonus, which starred Morgan Freeman.
The band has won six Grammys, including one every year between 2002 and 2005. Last year, they won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. This February, they performed at the White House, along with Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson and other icons of American music.
If "gospel" makes you think of a sleepy morning at church, you need not worry. The Blind Boys of Alabama can turn even the most serious atheist into a believer -- at least temporarily.
T. Loper is a writer for the San Diego music blog Owl and Bear.