A lot of traditional and contemporary gospel mixed with a little bit of country is what Pittsburgh audiences can expect when the Blind Boys of Alabama take the outdoor stage to close out the Three Rivers Arts Festival June 16.

“We’ve been to Pittsburgh many times and we love it there,” said founding member Jimmy Carter. “Our fans wanted us to come back again. When the Blind Boys of Alabama leave Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh will never be the same again!”

The group performed at the Three Rivers Arts Festival two years ago.

In addition to Carter who was the youngest of six boys and has been blind since birth, current members of the Blind Boys of Alabama are: founding member Clarence Fountain, Ricky McKinnie, Benjamin Moore, Paul Beasley and three musicians that play with the band as well as sing Joey Williams, Austin Moore and Tracy Pierce.

The Blind Boys of Alabama formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talledega, Ala., in 1939.

“Every blind child that wanted an education came to that school,” said Carter. “We all had a gift to sing. We sang in the male chorus and we decided to start the group. We had no idea we would become icons. We didn’t have that idea in mind but we are thankful to God because he did this. We just wanted to sing for the people.”

The group performed for almost 40 years on the Negro gospel circuit performing in churches, auditoriums and other venues.

“Back then the South was very segregated and we could only sing for Blacks. We were known as the ‘Five Blind Boys of Alabama’ back then but we changed to just the Blind Boys of Alabama because our numbers kept changing. Sometimes there were five of us and sometimes there were more or less,” Carter said. “We started the group because we just wanted to sing gospel music because we loved it.

“We were content back then because we knew that’s all we could do. It wasn’t easy to sing all day and not have a decent place to sleep, but we were dedicated to the people. When you love what you do, that keeps you going.”

The group scored its first hit in 1948 with the song “I Can see Everybody’s Mother But Mine” on the Veejay Record label. In the 1960’s, the Boys had the chance for crossover success with friend and fellow artist, Sam Cook, but decided to fight in the Civil Rights Movement and performed at events for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1983, The Blind Boys got their big break when the Obie Award-winning Greek play, “Gospel at Colonus” brought their deep, rich sound to mainstream audiences.

“Now our audiences are mixed and we travel all over the world,” Carter said.

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