In the era of Covid-19, one thing has become certain to artists who have learned to perform in rooms with little to no people — engaging to the cameras is essential. And when Gospel music legends The Blind Boys of Alabama stepped onto the stage for their Special Christmas Show streamed live Wednesday night on Mandolin, the old familiar spark lit up the stage.
“Well, here we are. The Blind Boys of Alabama. It has been a while, but we’re still here,” said Jimmy Carter, one of the group’s founding members.
Decked in shiny gold and black jackets with sequin bowties, The Blind Boys walked onto the stage as they usually do with one arm on each other’s shoulder. The five-time Grammy-award winning group is still at it after the original members met back in the 1930s as kids at the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, AL. Carter, the only founding member still alive, opened the set featuring a mix of modernized Christmas classics and traditional Gospel music. Despite their age and the circumstances, they boldly belted out familiar, upbeat favorites, such as “Walking to Jerusalem,” “People Get Ready,” “Silent Night,” and “Higher Ground.” Virtual fans chatting alongside the streaming video were dancing and singing right along with them.
“Blind Boys, you made us dance! The Stevie song there at the end was such a nice, upbeat surprise! We’ve always loved that song. Thank you and Blessings!” said Caroline in Pennsylvania.
And concertgoer Maia said, “Big ups from Colorado! Been coming to your concerts for 35 years!”
Covid-19 has slowed down the group, who have toured for decades through some turbulent times — the Jim Crow era of the ’30s and ’40s and into the Civil Rights Movement. In the ’80s, they endeared a new generation after starring in the Obie Award-winning musical “The Gospel at Colonus.” And over the years, they’ve worked with popular greats Peter Gabriel, Ben Harper, Robert Randolph, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Allen Toussaint, and Willie Nelson. But at its core, the group is moved by the people and the church. And even though the unexpected break from traveling has given them time to bond with family and friends, they miss the live audience. Eric “Ricky” McKinnie, who lost his sight to glaucoma as a 23-year-old young man and has been with the group for 32 years, shares how he and the group enjoy ministering to people.
“Without people to come out, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing,” said Ricky. “My favorite place to sing is the church. There is something spiritual that takes place there. We want our songs to make people think and reflect on God. A lot of people get Christmas mixed up. It’s about the birth of Christ, and the life that He brings, which is abundant life.”