Blind Boys Of Alabama Vocalist Clarence Fountain 1929 – 2018
Vocalist Clarence Fountain, a founding member of the Blind Boys Of Alabama, has died at age 88. Fountain passed away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Sunday according to a statement issued by longtime Blind Boys Of Alabama manager Charles Driebe. A cause of death was not revealed.
Clarence Fountain was born in Tyler, Alabama on November 28, 1929 and was raised in Selma, Alabama. He lost his vision when he was just 2-years-old. He was enrolled in the Talladega Institute For The Deaf & Blind, where at age 12 he formed the Happy Land Jubilee Singers with fellow students Jimmy Carter, George Scott, Velma Bozman Traylor, Johnny Fields, Olice Thomas and J.T. Hutton. The group changed their name to the Five Blind Boys Of Alabama (Hutton was sighted) and eventually shortened the moniker to Blind Boys Of Alabama.
Fountain and his mates left school in 1944 to pursue a full-time career as recording and touring artists. In 1948, the group recorded “I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine,” their first hit single and went on to release dozens of records for a variety of smaller labels in the years that followed. The band was one of the preeminent gospel acts of the ’50s and ’60s and helped define the hard gospel and blues sound thanks in part to Fountain’s distinctive vocals. While many of their contemporaries crossed over to soul, pop and rock, the Blind Boys continued to focus on traditional gospel music and toured the gospel circuit throughout the era. Clarence left the group in 1969 to embark on a solo career and rejoined in 1977.
A collective appearance as Oedipus in the 1988 Broadway run of The Gospel At Colonus marked a turning point as the Blind Boys started performing in bigger venues across the world for more mainstream audiences. In 2001, the group found their biggest commercial success and won their first Grammy with the release of Spirit Of The Century. The album included songs written by Ben Harper, Tom Waits, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards alongside more traditional gospel fare. Four additional Grammy wins followed and the Blind Boys Of Alabama were given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 Grammys. Those honors came after the Blind Boys Of Alabama’s 2002 induction into the Gospel Music Hall Of Fame.
In 2007, Fountain stopped touring with the group due to health issues and went on to retire in Baton Rouge. He continued to contribute to the Blind Boys albums through 2017’s Almost Home. Clarence Fountain is survived by his wife, Barbara.