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Passings: Clarence Fountain, Founding Member of the Blind Boys of Alabama

by VVN Music

Clarence Fountain, one of the original members of the Blind Boys of Alabama when they were founded in 1939, died Sunday (June 3) in a Baton Rouge, LA hospital at the age of 88.

All but one of the original members of the group were students at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega who, at the age of about 9, came together as The Happyland Jubilee Singers, originally touring the south and performing for soldiers in training camps.

In 1945, all of the members dropped out of school to begin touring professionally and, three years later, they began performing regularly with the Jackson Harmoneers from Mississippi; however, promoters changed the names of the groups to the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Blind Boys if Mississippi.

The group began to find popularity outside of the southern gospel circuit during the 50's when rock and pop singers started taking note of the music and began to incorporate it into their sound; however, by the 60's and 70's, soul music took over the popularity of gospel and sales for the group's records began to fall.

In 1969, Fountain left the group to strike out on his own but, by the end of the 70's, the group came back together.

Their next break came in the early-80's when the group appeared as a pseudo-Greek chorus in the play The Gospel at Colonus.  Their performances brought them to the eyes of mainstream audiences and got them bookings in a wide variety of venues.

They slowly moved into more secular music over the next few years and, in 1992, Booker T. Jones produced their album Deep River which brought them a Grammy nomination. Two years later, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded them the National Heritage Fellowship.

The Blind Boys released their album Spirit of the Century on Peter Gabriel's Real World Records in 2001 bringing both critical and commercial success and their first Grammy in 2002 for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album.  Over the next three years, they won the same category for their albums Higher Ground (2003), Go Tell It On the Mountain (2004), and There Will Be Light (2005).

Since that time, the Blind Boys of Alabama have continued to record and tour regularly including numerous appearances at music festivals.

Fountain was the last to die of the original six founding members.

Clarence Fountain is survived by his wife, Barbara.

Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, said:

Clarence Fountain was a founding member of the Grammy-winning gospel group Blind Boys Of Alabama, and 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." With the Blind Boys, he earned four Grammy Awards in the Best Traditional Gospel Soul Album category and 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.