The Blind Boys of Alabama, a five-time Grammy Award-winning group originally formed in the Jim Crow era, will put on a one-night-only concert filled with gospel soul and holiday spirit at Jones Hall on Sunday, December 4. Expect the best of traditional music and some Christmas classics performed in new arrangements, courtesy of Performing Arts Houston.
“This is Christmas, and people should come together. The overall message is to express some joy. We make people feel good though the music and songs,” said member Ricky McKinnie.
Soulful renditions of “White Christmas,” “Do You Hear What I Hear,” “Silent Night” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” are just a sample of the tunes the singers will perform.
McKinnie feels that gospel music is a great vehicle to blend the merriment of the holidays with the religious aspects behind the season.
“What makes gospel music special is because it can pick you up when you’re feeling bad. It can make you laugh sometimes. It can make you cry sometimes, and crying is good for the spirit. It cleanses the spirit. But most of all, it makes you know that through any situation, everything will be all right. No matter what the situation is, you know everything is going to be okay,” he said.
McKinnie’s route to perform with the Blind Boys was custom tailored. His mother was a singer, and he studied music most of his childhood. He played drums and took part in the choir. At age 17, he joined a quartet in his hometown Atlanta, Troy Ramey and the Soul Searchers. From there, he went to the Gospel Keynotes in Tyler, Texas.
Before joining the Blind Boys as a singer, he played as a band member, and by the time he entered his early 20s, he started losing his vision due to glaucoma.
“It's not about what you can't do that's important. It's about what you do. My mantra is: I'm not blind; I just can't see. That means that I might have lost my sight, but I never lost my direction,” McKinnie said. “It was just destined to be that music would be a part of my life.”
The Blind Boys of Alabama’s original members first sang together as children at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in the late 1930s. The band has persevered through seven decades to become one of the most recognized and decorated roots music groups in the world. In the early 1960s, the band sang at benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and were a part of the soundtrack to the Civil Rights movement. They earned a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and performed at the White House for three different presidents.
Their hit “The Message,” performed with Black Violin, is currently nominated for a Grammy in the Best Americana Performance category.
“If you want to have a good time, you want to clap your hands…if you want to do a little dance…if you want to smile and just have a good ol’ holiday season…Here's some good music - both Christmas music and traditional gospel. You need to be there when the Blind Boys are back in town,” McKinnie said.
Performing Arts Houston presents the Blind Boys of Alabama Sunday, December 4 at 6:30 p.m. at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For tickets or information, call 713-227-4772 or visit performingartshouston.org. $25.55 - $89
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