November 22, 2002
AMAZING GRACE:Fountain of faith: Blind Boys of Alabama leader finds a sermon at every turn (Frank Rabey, Oct 30, 2002, Asheville Mountain Xpress)
The group, together now for more than 60 years and with nearly two dozen albums to its credit, racked up a recent Grammy for the rousing Spirit of the Century (Real World, 2000), and is likely in contention for another for this year's blissful Higher Ground (Real World). The music – casually fusing quartet-style gospel, classic R&B, Delta-style blues and plain ol' rock 'n' roll – is unlikely to have ever found favor in the little Methodist church outside of Selma, Ala., where Fountain first heard the Good Word way back in the day. But it's reaching huge, adoring crowds in the here and now.
The Blind Boys met in 1939 at the Talladega (Ala.) Institute for the Deaf and Blind, reputedly a horrid place back then, when beatings from staff members were common.
"I came up on the rough side of the mountain," says Fountain, who was 10 when he started his singing career.
The original group of five, all standout members in Talladega's large choir, left the school in the early 1940s to try their fate on the gospel circuit. Known first as the Happy Land Jubilee Singers, they changed names in 1948 while doing a show in Newark, N.J., with another blind group, the Jackson Harmoneers from Mississippi, led by another firebrand vocalist, Archie Brownlee. The show was billed as a contest between the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Blind Boys of Mississippi; the new names stuck in the public's mind, beginning a friendly rivalry between what would soon become two of gospel's most prominent acts.
The Blind Boys of Alabama are now down to three original members, with Fountain, the shoutin', growlin', show-stoppin' gravel-and-honey-throated leader; deep-voiced George Scott; and sweet, high tenor Jimmy Carter.
Spirit of the Century is a better album overall, but Higher Ground has an astonishing cut, The Cross, which was written by Prince. It's worth the price of admission, by itself. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2002 12:01 AM