The seven-member Blind Boys of Alabama gospel band will bring its Christmas Show tour through Grass Valley Saturday night. The group’s goal today, as it was 70 years ago when it was founded, is to spiritually uplift their audience.
“We hope that we can say something or sing something to them that will lift them up and make them feel good,” said founding member Jimmy Carter of Saturday’s performance at Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium in Grass Valley, “and that we can all have a good time.”
The concert, presented by The Center for the Arts, begins at 8 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 7 p.m. for general admission. The Bear River High School “Jazz Unlimited” choir will open.
The Blind Boys of Alabama have been honored by The National Endowment for the Arts and the Grammy Awards with lifetime achievement awards for their legacy to gospel music. The group formed in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind. Carter said that in 1944 they hit the road to perform. He remains the lone founding member in the group today, quickly brushing off questions about his age with a laugh.
“I was very young. I’ll leave it like that,” Carter said.
A lot has changed in the group’s 70 years. Early on the group performed mostly on the black gospel circuit. In the 1960s, it joined the Civil Rights Movement, even performing at benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King, according to the band’s bio.
“We sing the old time traditional gospel music, and people seem to like that,” said Carter.
After seven decades of touring, the Blind Boys of Alabama have created their own solid musical history. They have been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and sung for two presidents in the White House. Songwriters such as Curtis Mayfield, Ben Harper, Eric Clapton, Prince and Tom Waits have praised The Blind Boys for their interpretations of everything from traditional gospel favorites to contemporary spiritual material. Beyond gospel, The Blind Boys have influenced soul, R&B and rock musicians and have appeared on recordings with Bonnie Raitt, Randy Travis, k.d. lang, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Charlie Musselwhite, Susan Tedeschi, Solomon Burke, Marty Stuart, Asleep at the Wheel and many others, according to the band’s website.
Blind Boys of Alabama have received five Grammy Awards and made multiple television appearances.
The on-stage configuration of the group currently consists of seven people: three blind singers — Carter, Ben Moore and Eric “Ricky” McKinnie accompanied by guitarist and musical director Joey Williams and a keyboard player, a bass player, and a drummer.
Saturday’s show will include a mix of gospel favorites, Christmas songs and even some country music from their latest album, Carter said.
The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Grass Valley performance is one of three in California this week — and part of their “Go Tell It on the Mountain” tour.
“The fusion of the Blind Boys’ Deep South gospel with New Orleans funk, R&B and jazz creates a superweapon of rootsmusic uplift … will raise goose bumps even on the tatted-up arms of resolutely futurist hipsters,” according to Rolling Stone magazine.
Tickets for Saturday are $35 for members of the Center for the Arts, $40 for non-members. There are $48 VIP tickets as well, which include preferred seating and parking. Purchase tickets online at www.thecenterforthearts.org. at the Center’s Box Office, (530) 274-8384, ext. 14 or at BriarPatch Co-op.