Founding member of the Gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama Clarence Fountain died June 3, 2018 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the age of 88 as a result of complications from diabetes.
With Fountain’ death, Jimmy Carter is the only original member still alive.
Fountain formed the five time Grammy and four time Dove Award winning group when he was 12 years old with some friends while at the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, Alabama as the Happy Land Jubilee Singers. It wasn’t until a promoter in 1948 billed the group as the Blind Boys of Alabama that they changed the name.
While still at the school, the boys would sneak off the campus to entertain nearby military troops. It was these performances that spurred the boys to leave school while still in their teens and pursue a life of making music.
Music legends Sam Cooke and Ray Charles liked what they heard from the group and wanted them to perform pop and soul tunes but Fountain refused saying, “when you promise God something, you don’t go back on that.” Speaking of their musical style of rousing an audience into spiritual ecstasy Fountain noted that you have to feel it deep n your gut in order to make others feel it.
Along with performing with the Blind Boys, Fountain has worked with Jewel, Martin Luther King, Booker T. Jones, Lou Reed, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, k.d.lang, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Susan Tedeschi, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples. and fellow group member Sam Butler.
As a part of the group Fountain appeared in the chorus for the award winning Sophocles play “The Gospel at Colonus”. Fountain appeared with his group members in “The Fighting Temptations” and an episode of “Great Performances”.
As himself he appeared in the documentaries “He Book of Clarence”, “How They Got Over”, “Live from Bonnaroo Music Festival 2002”, and “Blues Odyessey”; “The Late Late Show” with the Blind Boys of Alabama and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”; “Beverly Hills 90210”, and “On Stage America”.
Along with their Grammy and Dove Awards, the Blind Boys of Alabama have earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy, the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and are members of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Fountain was born on November 28, 1929 in Tyler, Alabama to a sharecropper and lived in Selma until he was admitted to the School for the Deaf and Blind at age eight. Fountain was blinded at the age of two when an eye infection was treated with a solution containing lye.
He is survived by his wife of nearly 20 years Barbara and several children.
feature photo credit: By Jason S – originally posted to Flickr as blind boys of alabama @ tipitina’s, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12221792