In 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, Lou Gehrig gave his famous "luckiest man on the face of the Earth" retirement speech and a handful of students at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf & Blind in Talladega (seriously, that's what it was called) discovered a shared gift for harmonizing. Seventy years later, still steered by founding member Jimmy Carter — who, understandably, doesn't get out on the road much these days — the Blind Boys of Alabama are a different kind of institution, one of the longest-running and most-decorated groups in gospel music history. Members have come and gone, but the Blind Boys' rafter-reaching songs of praise and deliverance are as eternal as the salvation they celebrate, and the group has never been shy about using secular pop styles to get its message across. They've covered Tom Waits (which you may remember from the first season of HBO's The Wire), toured with Tom Petty and Peter Gabriel and, on last year's Down in New Orleans, lifted their voices alongside Crescent City immortals Allen Toussaint, the Hot 8 Brass Band and Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
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