Clarence Fountain

Clarence Fountain (1929–2018), born in Tyler, Alabama, was a founding member and the longtime leader of the Alabama Blind Boys, a gospel group that, over many years, won several GRAMMY Awards (2001–2004), a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award (2009), and a National Heritage Fellowship—the nations's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts— from the National Endowment for the Arts (1994). The group was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2003) and sang in "In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music From the Civil Rights Movement" at the White House for President Obama (2010). Clarence Fountain grew up in a churchgoing, musical family in Selma, Alabama. After enrolling at age eight at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind in Talladega, he joined a boys choir. While still a teenager, he and five friends started a singing group called the Happy Land Jubilee Singers, emulating the jubilee harmony style of gospel music. The group later became forerunners of the hard gospel sound, a style that features a shouting and preaching lead singer (usually Fountain), accompanied by fuller instrumentation. The group recorded its first hit—"I Can See Everybody's Mother But Mine”—in 1948, the same year it changed its name to The Blind Boys of Alabama. During the Civil Rights Movement, in the early 1960s, the band performed at benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1983, they performed in the Off-Broadway stage production of Gospel at Colonus, a contemporary musical adaptation of the Greek tragedy Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles. With the play set in a black Pentecostal church, Morgan Freeman enacted the young Oedipus and the Blind Boys, with Clarence in the lead, sang the part of the blinded Oedipus. The play eventually ran on Broadway and toured the country, received two OBIE Awards, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. The group received its first GRAMMY nomination for the album Deep River in 1992 and won its first GRAMMY Award for Best Traditional Gospel Album for Spirit of the Century in 2001 and GRAMMY Awards in each of the next three years, with Higher Ground in 2002, Go Tell It on the Mountain in 2003, and There Will Be a Light (a collaboration with Ben Harper) in 2004. During an interview, Clarence said, "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." Clarence Fountain died at age 88 on June 3, 2018, at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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