“Be a dreamer, not a sleeper” advises Ricky McKinnie, drummer for the Blind Boys of Alabama, “Remember that nothing comes to a sleeper except a dream.  Blindness does not determine who you are.  Life is about your ability, not your disability.”

These words of sage advice are delivered backstage at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts just prior to showcasing their harmonies, spirit and soul before a sellout East Lansing crowd.  McKinnie, one of the group’s newer additions, did not lose his vision until the mid-seventies, and speaks of his disability with introspection, sincerity and surprising humor:  “I may not be able to drive, but God blessed me with the ability to hire a chauffeur.”

Sitting beside him on a counter stool, wearing his trademark ‘Jimster’ baseball cap, tenor Jimmy Carter nods in agreement.  Formerly a member of the Blind Boys of Mississippi, Carter recalls days a boy when he used to spend nights asking God to restore his sight.  “No more,” he says with a smile.  “I know that I was blessed in this way; there’s no telling where I would have ended up had God granted my wish, but probably not here.

God is at the core of most conversations with the Blind Boys, who began as a Gospel Group in the nineteen thirties and have, in recent years, exploded on the national stage in what has been a series of triumphs and comebacks spanning six decades.  They’ve performed to rave reviews on both Leno and Conan O’Brien and have scored Emmy awards in their last four attempts, and their rendition of ‘Way Down In The Hole’ was used as the theme song for the HBO series ‘The Wire's’ first season.  Refreshing, often soul scorching style proves as filled with inspiration in this century as it was in the last.

Riveting as the conversation was, it is the Blind Boys’ performance that rocks the rafters.  The four-time Grammy winners mixed spiritually-rooted popular music with their cornerstone gospel songs and had the audience on their feet nearly from the opening number.  Such well known numbers as ‘Down by the Riverside’ and ‘God Asks’ were peppered with upbeat versions of ‘Spirit in the Sky” and a minor-keyed ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’, which bears the distinct stamp of their deep Alabama roots.   



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