#FBF: Blind Boys of Alabama Go Country for New Album, ‘Take the High Road’

For over 70 years, Jimmy Carter — not to be mistaken with the former president — has been at the helm of the legendary band, the Blind Boys of Alabama. Formed as a gospel a capella group at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939, the group toured for almost 40 years on the black gospel circuit all over the country. With more than fifty gospel and blues albums to their name since 1948, the Blind Boys of Alabama recently have something new to sing about: a country music album.

“I’ve always loved country music,” said Carter. “I was raised up around it. Back in the 1940s, I remember listening to Hank Williams and so many others. Their voices were great. The writers were great. And every song had a meaning. I still have loads of country music in my home and I play it all the time.”

While the group has recorded and performed with a diverse group of artists, including Ben Harper and Prince, they had never had the opportunity to record a country album before.

In 2010, when the Blind Boys of Alabama were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, they met rising country music rocker Jamey Johnson while performing a duet at the ceremony. After confessions of mutual admiration, the group decided to record their first country album, with Johnson playing a key role in lining up some of Nashville’s biggest artists: Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Lee Ann Womack and Hank Williams, Jr.

The final product, Take the High Road, is a perfect hybrid of two types of great American music.

“Out of all the records we’ve done together, this has been the most natural. The connection between the material, the Nashville guests, and the Blind Boys felt like destiny. Somewhere in history, these two almost identical styles of music — country and gospel — went their separate ways. This record brings them back together,” says long-time Blind Boys producer Chris Goldsmith.

The Blind Boys have earned six Grammys, a National Endowment for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award and the privilege to perform at the White House for three sitting presidents, including current President Barack Obama and the first lady Michelle. They’ve appeared in three movies, including Hop, an animated feature from earlier this year. If Carter, who describes himself as “over 50,” is any indication of the future longevity of the band, the Blind Boys of Alabama will continue on for a long time.

Watch the video accompanying this article here.

*This article was originally published on May 25, 2011 for PBS Newshour

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