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The boys are back in town

BY Amy Smelser - ctreport@indy.rr.com

The Blind Boys of Alabama are the feature of this year’s Indiana Wesleyan University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration concert, scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. in the Phillippe Performing Arts Center.

The concert is free and open to the public.

“We’ll be singing some songs from our new CD, and we’ll be singing some songs from our other CDs,” Ricky McKinnie said.

All members of the gospel quartet are visually impaired and perform across the country.

McKinnie, a vocalist and the group’s business manager, has been with the Blind Boys since 1990. The group’s newest CD, “Almost Home,” debuted in August and tells of the band’s journey from the beginning to present day.

The group’s original members began performing together in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind. Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain are the surviving original members, and both record with the group. Carter still tours, but Fountain’s health prevents him from traveling.

“We let people know that a disability doesn’t have to be a handicap,” McKinnie said. “It’s about what you can do.”

The Blind Boys will be featured during Indiana Wesleyan’s 10 a.m. chapel on Friday prior to the evening’s public concert. McKinnie said the group will sing and share with the student body about how the group has thrived.

“We’ll talk about where we come from and how we got where we are today,” McKinnie said. “We’re going to express to them what gospel music is all about.”

Indiana Wesleyan’s office of Multicultural Enrichment organizes the university’s annual MLK concert to celebrate African American heritage and King’s legacy.

“We are thrilled … to bring the Blind Boys of Alabama to … campus as the centerpiece of our celebration of the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” John Bray, dean of the Chapel, said.

McKinnie said the group never shared a stage with King, but several performances over the years have supported the movement, financially and otherwise.

“All of our songs are designed to help people and encourage people,” he said.

The group has won five Grammy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award and four Dove Awards. The Blind Boys were inducted into the Gospel Music Association Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2003.

“When the Blind Boys started out, we weren’t even thinking about all these accolades and all that stuff,” Carter once told National Public Radio. “We just wanted to get out and sing gospel and tell the world about gospel music.”

McKinnie said the group also performed for former presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.

“When we went to the White House to meet three different presidents, that was really outstanding,” McKinnie said.

Keeping the group together and motivated for seven decades has not been a particular challenge, he said.

“We enjoy singing, meeting the people, and a lot of the people have come to us and said how our music has inspired them and been a big part of their lives,” McKinnie said. “Anytime you hear something that is inspiring, it makes you want to keep doing what you’re doing.”

He said the MLK celebration concert will have something for everyone.

“If (people) like signing along to a good song, clapping their hands, and feeling bad and want to feel glad, the place to be is at the Blind Boys concert when the boys are back in town,” McKinnie said.

Tickets for Friday’s free 7 p.m. concert are available at www.indwes.edu/events/mlk.