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CLARENCE FOUNTAIN,
1929-2018

Clarence Fountain, a founding member and leader of The Blind Boys of Alabama, died Sunday in Baton Rouge, La., of complications from diabetes. He at 88.

Manager Charles Driebe confirmed his death to the Associated Press.

They recorded for Specialty Records, home to Little Richard, in the 1950s; sang to raise money and awareness for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s; had an award-winning run off-Broadway in the ‘80s; and, after recording for Elektra in the early 1990s then a Grammy-winning run at Peter Gabriel's Real World Records, became a fixture in the pop and rock realms.

They won four Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship and are members of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Fountain, said Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow in a statement, “was seen as a pillar of inspiration in the music industry. He lent his distinctive vocals to the ensemble's extensive catalog of recordings for more than 70 years and helped drive the group to mainstream success in 1948 with ‘I Can See Everybody's Mother But Mine.’ … The group was honored with the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 for their remarkable contributions to gospel music. Clarence will be dearly missed, and our thoughts go out to his loved ones during this difficult time.”

Fountain had stopped touring with the group in 2007 because of complications from diabetes, but appeared on the group’s 2017 album, Almost Home. It leaves current leader Jimmy Carter as the group’s only original member.

Fountain formed the group with his friends at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind in Talladega, sneaking away from campus to perform as The Happy Land Jubilee Singers. They had their first hit single in 1948, "I Can See Everybody's Mother But Mine."

They changed their name after a promoter in Newark, N.J., billed the Jubilee Singers in a battle of between the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi in 1948. They changed their name.

The group stuck with gospel music, fighting of the urging of pop artists and labels to record secular music. Besides Specialty, the group also recorded for Vee-Jay.

With Fountain taking on the role of a preaching lead singer, the Blind Boys pioneered so-called “hard gospel” and became known as "house-wreckers" for their ability to whip an audience into a frenzy.

Fountain left the group in 1969 for a solo career, rejoining the group in 1980. In 1983, they appeared in the off-Broadway stage production of Gospel at Colonus, singing the part of blind Oedipus; the show won two Obie Awards.

In 1992, they recorded Deep River for Elektra with Booker T. Jones producing. They made their first secular recoding, a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Believe in You," that started them on a path toward recording more mainstream material.

The group won Grammys in the Traditional Gospel Album category four years straight between 2002 and 2005. They took home the Grammy for the Real World releases Spirit of the Century, Higher Ground, and Go Tell it on the Mountain plus their collaboration with Ben Harper, There Will be a Light (Virgin).

Besides Harper, they recorded with Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Mavis Staples and dozens of others.

In the obit posted on the band’s website, Fountain is quoted as saying, "My theory is do something good in the end and that will close out your longevity. After that, you can go on home and sit down."

 

 

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