For Jimmy Carter, leader and founding member of the Blind Boys of Alabama, gospel music is every bit as much about spreading the gospel as it about making music.
“I think God gave us this gift. We were born to do what we’re doing,” said the singer — not to be confused with his namesake — that other Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States.
Carter and the Blind Boys of Alabama will appear Thursday as the special guests of folk-rock singer-songwriter Marc Cohn at his Green Music Center concert.
Cohn will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his platinum-selling, self-titled debut album by performing the Grammy Award-winning record in its entirety.
Fans can look forward to the two acts teaming up on the album’s 1991 hit single “Walking in Memphis,” as they have in previous concerts and on a live recording.
The Blind Boys of Alabama first sang together in the chorus at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega, Alabama, in 1939. The group first performed professionally in 1944, and left school to go on the gospel circuit the following year.
“I’m one of the original ones,” said Carter, born blind and now in his 80s. “When we started out we had nothing but just an old acoustic guitar, and now we have a full band — drums, bass, guitar, lead guitar, keyboards, the whole works.”
But while the instrumental accompaniment has gotten a bit more modern, the music itself and its message remain essentially the same, Carter said.
“Our message is we want to let the world know that Jesus Christ still lives, and He’ll come into your life if you open your heart to Him,” said Carter, who will perform in Rohnert Park with Paul Beasley, Joey Williams, Eric McKinnie and Ben Moore of the Blind Boys.
The Blind Boys repertoire has ranged from old-time religious standards like “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” to the civil rights anthem “I Shall Not Be Moved,” to such soul classics as Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”
For the Blind Boys, music has become as natural as breathing.
“We all have great instincts and good ears and we know how harmony is supposed to go,” Carter said.
Their religious motivation doesn’t mean a Blind Boys concert turns into a solemn church service, however. Their music can rock.
“It isn’t too far from the blues to gospel,” Carter said. “You just have to know which side you’re on. We’re on the gospel side.”
You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @danarts.