The Blind Boys of Alabama have been singing gospel music for seven decades – through a world war, the civil rights movement, moon landings and the invention of the Internet. They've gone from their beginnings at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind all the way to the White House where they've sung for three presidents.
Now, the Grammy award winners are back at it with a new recording called Almost Home. Original member James Carter took time out from a series of events in Durham recently to talk about his life's work.
"All we wanted to do was get out and sing gospel music and tell people about Jesus," Carter said of the formation of the group.
Carter grew up with five sighted brothers. He said he questioned God for making him blind, but ultimately made peace with it.
"If I had had my sight, I probably wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now," Carter said. "I feel like this is my calling. This is what I was destined to do."
Carter recalled how music producers in Los Angeles pressured the Blind Boys to cross over to secular music in the 1950s, around the same time they recruited Gospel singer Sam Cooke. Cooke went on to become the King of Soul, but Carter said the Blind Boys stayed true to their mission.
"We knew what our Gospel roots were and we were determined to stay there," said Carter, in a possible nod to the new Blind Boys song, "Stay On The Gospel Side."
The group nevertheless developed a huge following and earned numerous accolades, including six Grammy Awards.
Musicians submitted 50 songs for consideration on the latest Blind Boys record, Almost Home. "Singing Brings Us Closer," was written by Durham-based Phil Cook. He said the Blind Boys are heroes of his, and contributing to this album is a major point of pride for him.