Divine inspiration brought the Blind Boys of Alabama together in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind, a school that taught blind youth of the beleaguered South Braille and trained them for rudimentary careers making broom handles and chair bottoms. Today, leader Jimmy Carter is the sole remnant of that handful of 7- to 12-year-olds who became a gospel singing sensation.
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Resisting the popular pull of rhythm and blues in the '60s, the group held fast to its traditional message of God and praise. Eventually, though, the Boys broke their self-imposed gospel boundaries with a repertoire that mixed the sacred with positive secular songs while incorporating funk, rock, soul and blues rhythms—a perfect mix for their righteous four-part vocal power. Their most recent effort is the Dixieland-styled album Down in New Orleans, cut with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Allen Toussaint. Sometimes things just get better with age. —Glenn BurnSilver