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Blinded by gospel

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | DECEMBER 10, 2009 7:30 AM

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mp3 sample: Blind Boys of Alabama

"Perfect Peace"

The only thing that hasn’t changed during the seven decades of the Blind Boys of Alabama’s career is the music.

“When you love what you do, when you enjoy what you do, it just gives you the adrenaline to keep going,” said original member and lead vocalist Jimmy Carter.

The Blind Boys of Alabama will try to liven up Iowa City’s holiday spirit with its rich gospel tradition at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., for “Go Tell It on the Mountain — the Christmas Show.” Admission ranges from $34 to $38.

The group has an impressive résumé, including more than 40 albums, five Grammy awards, and collaborations with well-known artists such as Ben Harper and Jars of Clay. Even the group’s latest album Duets released in October, is leading the members to a performance with Lou Reed on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in January.

Carter feels blessed to be part of such a tradition-rich group, and he emphasizes the band’s priority to stay true to its roots while embracing a changing musical landscape.

“We find most of these people we collaborate with have come from gospel roots also and just chose to go another way,” the singer said. “There have not been too many adjustments we have to make.”

While chatting over the phone, it is obvious the decades of singing has affected Carter. The singer’s voice carried a worn sound as he described the Blind Boys’ message.

“We just tell the people that we’ve come here to make you feel something you’ve never felt before, and that’s the spirit of the living God,” Carter said. “We don’t try to force anything down their throats, but we just try to plant the seed and let it grow — sometimes that’s the case and sometimes not.”

In his years, Carter learned that it’s not his duty to change his listeners’ views. He said he wants to be honest — and the rest happens on its own.

“I found out one thing — what comes from the heart reaches the heart,” he said. “I don’t care how mean you might be, what your beliefs might be — there is a little part of God in everyone because He created you.”

Longtime fan and Iowa City resident Justin Petersen recalls fond memories of listening to the Blind Boys of Alabama when he was a kid.

“My mom and dad always cranked them up,” he said. “[The members] have voices that represent what gospel music should sound like.”

Carter hopes that listeners, whether they are spiritual or not, can take some bits of truth out of the music’s message. But he stresses that the group simply wants people to enjoy themselves.

“There are a lot of people in the world who need to be encouraged,” he said. “We try to bring encouragement, bring them hope, and bring them joy.”


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