published Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Blind Boys of Alabama: An unwavering love of gospel music — Sept. 23

The Blind Boys of Alabama
The Blind Boys of Alabama
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


• What: Patten Performance featuring Blind Boys of Alabama

• When: 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23

• Where: UTC Fine Arts Center, 752 Vine St.

• Admission: $10-$24

• Phone: 423-425-4371

When the Blind Boys of Alabama start talking about recording a new album, as they did recently with "I'll Find a Way," there is just one requirement when it comes to picking songs. It's a hard and fast rule that all core members have been steadfast about since almost the beginning.

"We are a gospel group, so if we can't do it gospel, it goes into the garbage," says Jimmy Carter.

The group, featuring Carter, Eric "Ricky" McKinnie, Paul Beasley, Ben Moore, Tracy Pierce and musical director Joey Williams, has worked with such artists as Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield, Ben Harper, Eric Clapton, Prince and Tom Waits.

On the new CD, they worked with producer Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Phil Cook of Megafaun. Vernon chose many of the songs, with the group's approval, as well as the guests, who include Shara Worden, Sam Amidon and Patty Griffin.

Carter says the Blind Boys, who will perform Monday, Sept. 23, as part of the Patten Performances series at UTC, have been approached about doing non-gospel songs and projects, but the group has not wavered.

"When Sam Cooke was offered the opportunity to sing non-gospel songs, we were in the same studio on the same day and the same time and were offered the same thing. Sam did it, and we did not. Now, I will say, Sam never left his gospel roots."

Carter, who along with McKinney and Moore are blind, says the reason for sticking to gospel is pretty straightforward.

"We were brought up in a Christian environment. God has been good to us. He has taken care of us through ... I don't want to call it a handicap, I call it an inconvenience."

The Blind Boys formed in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega.

They first drew the attention of audiences outside of black churches at the World's Fair in Knoxville in 1982 and later as Oedipus in the theater production of "The Gospel at Colonus." They have earned five Grammy Awards.

Though Carter says the group is wedded to gospel music, he has a personal love of country music.

"I love it. I have my XM satellite on Willie's [Nelson] Roadhouse."

The one person he regrets not collaborating with is the late George Jones.

"He was special," Carter says. "He wanted to record with us, and in fact on the country project we did, he came in, but his allergies were so bad, it didn't work out.

"Oh, man, he was the greatest."

Carter says he is currently working on "a slight project that has some country stuff. Some Eddy Arnold stuff, and I'm going to do [Ned Miller's] 'From a Jack to a King.'"

The Blind Boys actually lived in Chattanooga "for a minute" almost 60 years ago, Carter says.

"Oh yeah, WDOD used to play us," he says.

Folks who come to the show Monday will hear some of the new material, as well as some traditional and toe-tapping gospel song from the past.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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