When you hear the name Jimmy Carter, you may think of the former president. But our guest Jimmy Carter has been making a joyful noise with the Blind Boys of Alabama since their start at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939. Over their long career, the Blind Boys have performed at neighborhood churches and nightclubs, large music halls and the White House. Jimmy Carter is the only surviving member of the original Blind Boys. He is reflective but has no plans of stopping just yet.
Jimmy Carter: We started out in a little town in Alabama called Talladega. There was a school there for the blind. We found five or six voices that could sing, so we organized a group. June 10, 1944, that was our first professional debut, WSGN in Birmingham. They allowed the Blind Boys to come on there and do a broadcast.
Nick Spitzer: How about getting around on the road once you got going? I mean, how did you work that out as far as transportation and all the arrangements?
JC: We had a manager at that time and so he had a car and he would take the Blind Boys around to different churches and schools and auditoriums. We were just singing around in the segregated South at the time, and it was kind of hard to have a program at night, and then you couldn’t get anything to eat because you couldn’t go into a restaurant.
NS: Why do you think over the years you stayed on the Gospel side?
JC: Well you know, when the Blind Boys started out, we were not expecting anything. We were not looking for no accolade, no award, no anything. The only thing we wanted to do was get out and sing gospel music, and all of us were brought up in a Christian environment, our families, our parents were Christians, and we were determined, no matter what, we were not going to deviate from our commitment. We were going to stay on the Gospel side.
NS: How far away have you been from Talladega as a Blind Boy of Alabama?
JC: Oh my goodness, I’ve been all over the world! On this new record the Blind Boys got out, the record is called Almost Home, and there’s a song on there that says, “I come a long way from Alabama.”
NS: So when you say you’re almost home, what do you mean by that?
JC: The Blind Boys have had a long journey. There comes a time when you have to stop. I don’t see me stopping yet, but there will be a time when I’ll have to step down. But I think I was called to do what I’m doing, and so it’s an ongoing project, you never finish. That’s a good thing, you know.
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.