March 23, 2009


Holy rollers: The Blind Boys of Alabama and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (TED DROZDOWSKI, March 23, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

The double bill of the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Symphony Hall on Friday is a match made in New Orleans, where the two venerable groups met to record the Blind Boys' 2008 album. But the music they make together, insists Blind Boys tenor singer Jimmy Carter, comes from a higher place. "When I am singing, I am an instrument of God, and all of the music we make is carrying his message. I am his spirit. And when people hear our songs and tell me that we have touched their lives, well, that's what me and the rest of the band are all about."

If that seems a bit pretentious, consider the band's history, which Carter describes as a "mission." It began in 1939 when a group of students at the Talladega Institute for the Blind led by lion-voiced baritone Clarence Fountain banded together as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. Carter joined five years later, while the group were touring the tent-revival circuit and performing on radio like their heroes, the Golden Gate Quartet.

"We were influenced by them and the Soul Stirrers and the Pilgrim Travelers," he explains over the phone from his 102-year-old mother's house in Alabama. "My voice was a little less scratchy back then, but it's still in good shape. The secret is getting plenty of rest." Even though these singing septuagenarians play 150 to 200 shows a year, Carter does get more sleep than he did during his first 57 years with the band — especially in the early years, when low-paying one-nighters in churches, tents, and community centers were the norm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 23, 2009 5:05 PM
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