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May 23, 2002

The Blind Boys of Alabama Perform at Library of Congress June 5

Fresh from their Grammy win, the Blind Boys of Alabama will present a free, lunchtime gospel concert on Wednesday, June 5, at noon, on the steps of the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, Neptune Plaza, First and Independence Ave., SE. The concert will also be cybercast live at www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc.

The concert is co-sponsored by the American Folklife Center and the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage as part of "Homegrown 2002: The Music of America," and the Library's Music Division, as part of its major musical initiative, "I Hear America Singing."

The Blind Boys of Alabama formed as a group at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind -- thirty miles from Birmingham, Ala. -- in 1937, where the members were taught piano in Braille. They sang together whenever they could; sneaking out of the school grounds to entertain nearby soldier encampments based there during World War II.

The ensemble's initial encounter with commercial gospel singing came via a radio show on Birmingham's WSGN station (their teachers refused to accept gospel as a "legitimate" art form); their early influences were the Golden Gate Quartet, the Heavenly Gospel Singers, and the Soul Stirrers. They first called themselves the Happy Land Jubilee Singers; they were led by Velma Bozman Traylor, who died suddenly in 1947. Because of the success of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Happy Land Jubilee Singers decided in 1948 to change their name to the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Their first recordings were for the Coleman label in 1948, and their first national hit, "I Can See Everybody's Mother but Mine," dates from 1949. Eventually the ensemble established a strong reputation in the gospel world, especially through their recordings for Art Rupe's Specialty Records, followed by Vee Jay, Savoy, Elektra, and other labels. By the early 1980s, lead singer Clarence Fountain had become both the voice and soul of the group, delivering highly emotive spirituals and never straying from their gospel traditions, despite at least one big money offer to adapt to rhythm and blues. Fountain ascribes the group's longevity to "clean living and clear consciences," -- and the fact that each member of the group is proficient enough to alternate parts if illness or occasion demands it (they are now helped out by additional members Sam and Bobby Butler and Curtis Foster). In 1995 the group became the first to be signed to the new House of Blues gospel label, for which they recorded their first live album "I Brought Him with Me."

Today, the Blind Boys of Alabama garner praise for their gospel renditions, performing on stages and worldwide venues from the White House and the Olympic games to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD), and the Seattle world hunger benefit, Groundwork 2001, with Dave Matthews and Emmylou Harris. They have appeared on Broadway with Morgan Freeman in "The Gospel at Colonus" and have appeared on national television. The roster of artists the Blind Boys have recorded with includes k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Gabriel, and Lou Reed.

The group's new compact disc, "Spirit of the Century," is a stunning blend of classic gospel tunes and contemporary secular music, all reinterpreted in the Blind Boys' unique and passionate style. The CD, which has been called one of the most important roots releases of 2001, won the 2002 Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album Grammy Award. As Amy Linden wrote in People magazine, "The Blind Boys will make even non-believers say Hallelujah!"

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival presentation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.

Part of the Kennedy Center's Performing Arts for Everyone initiative, the Millennium Stage helps fulfill the center's mission to make performing arts accessible to everyone. The Millennium Stage introduces the performing arts to the local community and to millions of people who visit the center each year. These free, 6 p.m. performances are offered 365 days a year. Tickets are never required. Daily broadcasts of Millennium Stage concerts are available on the Internet. For a schedule and information on how to access the broadcasts, visit the Kennedy Center website: http://kennedy-center.org.

"I Hear America Singing" celebrates the musical heritage of America in a new Web site project. The site will eventually provide free Internet access to the Library's unsurpassed musical treasures through a database of recordings, reproductions of manuscripts and printed music, moving and still images, and discussions by scholars and performers. Lectures, masterclasses, symposia, and other educational programs will examine a national musical legacy that embraces a vast range of American musical expression -- from gospel, rhythm and blues, and Celtic music, to bluegrass, country, klezmer, and rock and roll.

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PR 02-042
05/23/02
ISSN 0731-3527

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