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Gospel for the masses

Blind Boys of Alabama, July 14, George Williams College

(Published July 10, 11:53 a.m.)

It took the Blind Boys of Alabama 40 years to become an overnight success.

They were regulars on the traditional gospel circuit until an important breakthrough occurred in 1983 with their crucial role in "The Gospel at Colonus," the smash hit musical drama created by Bob Telson and Lee Breuer.

This Obie Award-winning Broadway success, coupled with their appearance on two original soundtrack albums in 1984 and 1988, brought the Blind Boys' timeless sound to an enthusiastic new audience.

This nationally renowned soul-gospel group will perform Saturday, July 14 as part of the seventh annual Music by the Lake Series.

Performances are held in the Allyn Pavilion for the Performing Arts at George Williams College of Aurora University, located on the shores of Geneva Lake in Williams Bay.

The Blind Boys of Alabama first formed in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind. Founding members Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott are joined today by more recent arrivals Joey Williams, Ricky McKinnie, Bobby Butler and Tracy Pierce.

Their mission is to expand the audience for traditional soul-gospel singing while incorporating contemporary songs and innovative arrangements into their distinctive style.

The 1992 album Deep River, produced by Booker T. Jones and featuring a transcendent version of Bob Dylan's "I Believe In You," earned the Blind Boys their first Grammy Award nomination. In 1995 the group released a roof-raising live album, I Brought Him With Me, followed by Holding On, an experiment in "funked-up" contemporary gospel.

After a hiatus of nine years, Spirit Of The Century appeared on the Real World label, winning the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Album.

A version of Tom Waits' "Way Down In The Hole," a track from the album, became the theme song for the acclaimed HBO dramatic series, The Wire.

Higher Ground, a spiritual excavation into the soul music tradition, earned the group its second consecutive Grammy Award in 2002.

2003 brought their third consecutive Grammy for Best Traditional Gospel Album for the star-studded Christmas album, Go Tell It On The Mountain.

This distinctive recording gave The Blind Boys an opportunity to give something to others in need. With two original members of the group suffering from Type 2 diabetes, a portion of the proceeds from the recording were donated to the American Diabetes Foundation, for which they became spokesmen in 2003.

A collaboration with Ben Harper in 2004 produced another hit, "Let There Be Light," culminating in a third Grammy nomination and inclusion in The Billboard Top 100 list, a first in the group's history.

The artist underwriter for this performance is The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Foundation. This presentation is supported by the Performing Arts Fund, a program of Arts Midwest funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts' American Masterpieces, which believes a great nation deserves great art, with additional contributions from General Mills Foundation, Land O'Lakes Foundation and Wisconsin Arts Board.

Single tickets and season subscriptions are available. Single tickets are available for the Blind Boys performance in the pavilion seating area for $53, terrace area for $27 and the lawn area for $11. Season lawn seating packages-four tickets redeemable at any event(s)-are available for $37. For tickets, visit the Web site at www.aurora.edu/mbtl or call (866) 843-5200, toll free.

 

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