Clarence Fountain, founding member of Blind Boys of Alabama, passes away at 88

Bruce Warren Blog, Home Row 1

Clarence Fountain, one of the founding members of the Blind Boys of Alabama has passed away at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was 88.In an interview for Oxford American in 2010, Clarence Fountain, one of the co-founders of the Blind Boys of Alabama had this to say about his music:

“I’m not singing rock & roll. You might hear a rock & roll tune. But listen to me. See what I’m singing about. I’m not singing about ‘Darling, I love you’ or ‘Bring it on home to me.’ No. I’m singing about the Lord. So ever how I turn a song around, it doesn’t matter, I’m still singing about the Lord. Pick the right song at the right time and you hit the jackpot. You can make a song. Make sure you’re singing the right words, and singing them at the right time, and singing about what you singing about. My forte is to sing about God. He said the cattle of a thousand years belonged to Him. So if He can keep the cows going, I know He can keep me going.”

Gospel pioneers, the Blind Boys of Alabama have held true to the good word since the 1940s, when Fountain and Jimmy Carter co-founded the group with George Scott, Velma Bozman Traylor, Johnny Fields, Olice Thomas, and the only sighted member, J. T. Hutton. Fountain was born in Tyler, Alabama in 1929. When he was two years old he lost his sight, and when he was eight years old he went to the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Alabama. When they first started, they called themselves The Happyland Singers and changed their name to the Blind Boys in 1939. In 1944, the group moved to Birmingham, performing shows on radio stations like WSGN, followed by WKAX. Over the years, even as they were presented with opportunities to secularize their music, the Blind Boys stayed true to their gospel sound. The band has won numerous Grammy Awards, were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and in 1994, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a National Heritage Fellowship to the group.

Fountain’s passing was announced by the Blind Boys‘ long time manager, Charles Driebe, and leaves Jimmy Carter as the only remaining original member of the group. Fountain was 88, lived in Baton Rouge. With his health in decline, he has not been touring with the group since 2007, however he did record with them, and is on the band’s 2017 album, Almost Home.

Below, watch a performance of Clarence with the group and an interview he did about the origin of the band.

This article was written for WXPN’S GOSPEL ROOTS OF ROCK AND SOUL.

GOSPEL ROOTS OF ROCK AND SOUL has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Photo of Clarence Fountain used by permission: (c) Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos