Blind World Magazine

Blind Boys hang out help-wanted sign.

October 09, 2005.
The Advertiser.

Membership into The Blind Boys of Alabama isn't that selective - you don't really have to be from Alabama.

Drummer Ricky McKinnie is from Georgia. And, the group's leader, Clarence Fountain, calls Baton Rouge home.

But, don't apply if you can see the words on this page. And, if you can't sing with passion and depth, well, just settle for being part of the audience.

"Yeah, it's complicated. It's hard to find a guy that really can sing and is blind," Fountain says about recruiting new members for the Southern gospel group.

"We did find one that can do pretty good. But he's still not up to par because he can't sing background (vocals). He can do the front, but not background. You have to be versatile."

This conversation wouldn't be relevant if Fountain and his fellow Blind Boys weren't reaching the final chapter of their songbooks.

Fountain is 74. Jimmy Carter is 73. And this past spring George Scott, the third link to the five original Blind Boys, died.

It's enough to make you wonder if the Blind Boys - a group started in 1937 at the Talladega (Ala.) Institute for the Deaf and the Blind - will continue once its founders are gone.

"All good things must come to an end," Fountain says. "But if they decided to go on, I'm not going to stop them."

Though, he could. Fountain owns the rights to the name. Yet, he's more worried about other things, like dying.

That's not to say he's morbid. But at least three times during a 15-minute interview, Fountain talked about "going home" to heaven.

While he's still on earth, Fountain and the Blind Boys will just continue what they've done for decades, sing about the Lord.

"Our message is to sing to you and make you feel something you've never had before, and that's the spirit of God," Fountain says.

In the past five years, The Blind Boys have moved everyone from Ben Harper (who recorded with the group on its Higher Ground album) to the ultra-finicky members of the national music media (magazines from Rolling Stone to GQ have written about the Boys) to the Grammy voters (The Blind Boys have won four straight Grammys).

In the near future, Fountain is talking about making a movie with Morgan Freeman and another Blind Boys album with more big-name stars, like Eric Clapton.

But, "He's got to sing a religious song. He can't sing the blues," Fountain says.

As always, it's not easy to get into the Blind Boys.

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