The Blind Boys of Alabama are a bridge to the past and a different South altogether, where “Separate but Equal” better described black and white musical styles than social vantage.
Since a group of five blind musicians (only one of them alive today) began singing harmonies in the late 1930s, the group survived in some fashion through the invention of the 33-rpm record, tape deck, boombox, CD and iPod.
The social soundscape has changed, too, 50 years since the famous speech by Martin Luther King, for whom the Blind Boys are said to have performed at rallies. Up from gospel music, the group has witnessed the rise of black musical genres from Motown, soul and jazz to funk, modern R&B, and hip-hop.
These aren’t the same Blind Boys that met at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind, in a South many years removed from our own. The group has shrunk from five to three, and surviving original member Clarence Fountain is very old, and rarely tours.
Music styles are a lot more tangled now. From arrangements that mimicked long-gone black harmonic acts like the Lanfordaires, the Golden Gate Quartet or the Jackson Harmoneers, the group has collaborated with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed and Susan Tedeschi. Nowadays, they’re just as likely to perform alongside Randy Travis or Ben Harper.
When: Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St., Durham