Clarence Fountain, a founding member of the Grammy-winning gospel group The Blind Boys Of Alabama, died Sunday at age 88. The cause of death was complications from diabetes. As one of the most recognizable faces (and voices) of the Blind Boys, Fountain led the group during a long career that included eclectic collaborations, five Grammys, and an almost constant touring schedule. Fountain retired from touring in 2007 but still occasionally joined the band when his health allowed.
While the Blind Boys stayed in the gospel lane for their own albums, they often went secular to hook up with big stars like Kanye West, John Legend, Lou Reed, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, and Bon Iver. They played a throng of famous covers, worked with acclaimed songwriters like Prince, and enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Ben Harper, which included the 2005 Grammy-winning album There Will Be A Light.
After Fountain’s passing, the Blind Boys will continue to tour and record music. Still, the co-founder’s contribution to the band, the gospel genre, and the stylings of a whole cadre of modern artists can’t be understated. The band’s energetic, “testifying” brand of gospel music — which allowed for improvisation, scatting, and falsetto — influenced modern pop music and the gospel-infused hip-hop movement.
Below you’ll find a few of our favorite Blind Boys tracks and collaborations over the years.
With Kanye West, John Legend, and Mavis Staples performing “Jesus Walks” at the 2005 Grammys.
With Ben Harper singing “Shall Not Walk Alone” for Harper’s DVD Pleasure + Pain.