A joyous performance got the audience on their feet
Five-time Grammy winners, the Blind Boys of Alabama, along with Grammy winner and Blues Hall of Famer Charlie Musselwhite, brought traditional anniversary gospel and rousing and melancholic blues to Pepperdine University on January 17th.
Beginning at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in the late 1930’s, The Blind Boys brought over 80 years of gospel history to Smothers Theatre.
The theater hosted a full house of music lovers to catch Tuesday night’s show.
The show began with guitar slides from Charlie Musslewhite, who performed original songs like “Blues Up The River” and “Stingaree” as well as blues classics like “Pea Vine Blues.”
He was then joined by Blind Boys of Alabama musical director and lead guitarist Joey Williams, who backed him for a performance of his song “Drifting From Town to Town.”
Musslewhite then asked Williams if he could join him in a song for the crowd, to which Williams said it would be an honour. Together they performed a rhythmic and soulful rendition of Inez Andrews’ gospel classic Lord Don’t Move That Mountain.
Williams said that although he has known Musslewhite for many years, it was a special occasion to play with him and he relished the opportunity.
“Playing solo with Charlie was a really big thing for me,” Williams said. “To actually play with him, just me and him, is an honor I can’t even explain.”
After a pause, the crowd was greeted by founding member and frontman of the Blind Boys of Alabama, Jimmy Carter, who asked the audience if they were ready to be happy.
“We hope that we can say or sing something that can uplift you and make you feel good,” he said.
The charming and charismatic frontman, 90, knew how to make the audience smile and laugh. He humbly joked about the group’s success.
“We got another Grammy nomination, which is good. It’s just good to be nominated even if you don’t win,” Carter said. “If we don’t win, it doesn’t hurt that much because we’ve already won five!”
The audience was immersed in the Blind Boys’ performance of the gospel classic “Do Lord.” The audience began clapping in unison, accompanying the band to the beat of the song.
The band followed with an impassioned cover of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky.
The band was then rejoined by Musslewhite, who now graced the stage with his signature and multi-award-winning harmonica skill to accompany the Blind Boys in performing some of their best-known songs.
They performed songs like “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” which was featured on Tyler Perry’s “Madea Goes to Jail” and “Way Down In The Hole” which was featured on the HBO television series The Wire.
The group ended the evening with an explosive and exuberant performance of “Amazing Grace,” during which Carter got up and, with the help of the band manager, made his way through the theater to sing with the audience. Much like a Sunday morning church service, the audience rose, clapped their hands, danced and cheered as the band created a loud and positive energy.
Williams said the boys have performed at Pepperdine University before and the experience is always special. He said the crowd’s energy brings joy to the boys.
“Pepperdine brings it every time,” Williams said. “The audience was so great, they gave it [energy] back to us. They’re on their feet, they’re making noise, we love that.”
Steve Ray Ladson, bassist and backing vocalist for the Blind Boys, said it meant the world to him and the Blind Boys to spread the gospel on the West Coast and around the world.
He also said it means a lot to him personally to play with these artists he grew up with.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Ladson. “It’s a dream to tour, live life and play gospel with legends.”
Gary Clausen attended the event with his 20-year-old son and said the best part of the show for him was sharing the experience with him.
“I expose my son to the legends of different genres of music because once they’re gone, they’re gone forever,” Clausen said. “He can hear those important gospels, spirituals and real blues. It’s important for the younger generation to really experience this.”
Next, on Sunday, January 29, Pepperdine will host pianist Yin Li as part of the university’s Recital Series. Tickets can be purchased at arts.pepperdine.edu.