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MJF67, Sept. 27-29, 2024


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© Jim Herrington / Laura Carbone
Blind Boys of Alabama with special guest Bobby Rush
  • Arena Artist
  • Saturday, September 28 12:30 pm - 1:20 pm Jimmy Lyons Stage

The Blind Boys of Alabama are recognized worldwide as living legends of gospel music. Celebrated by The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Recording Academy with Lifetime Achievement Awards, inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and winners of five Grammy® Awards, they have attained the highest levels of achievement in a career that spans over 70 years.

The Blind Boys are known for crossing multiple musical boundaries with their remarkable interpretations of everything from traditional gospel favorites to contemporary spiritual material by songwriters such as Eric Clapton, Prince, and Tom Waits. They have appeared on recordings with many artists, including Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Aaron Neville, Susan Tedeschi, Ben Harper, Patty Griffin, and Taj Mahal. The Blind Boys of Alabama have also appeared on The Tonight Show, Late Night, The Grammy Awards, 60 Minutes, The Colbert Report, and many other television shows.

Blind Boys of Alabama released Echoes Of The South on Aug 25, 2023, which finds the Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductees coming home to honor those they've lost, on a bold declaration of how far they still plan to go. The eleven-song collection is a portrait of perseverance from a group well-versed in overcoming incredible odds — from singing for pocket change in the Jim Crow South, to performing for three different American presidents, soundtracking the Civil Rights movement and helping define modern gospel music as we know it. Recently, the group's decades-long mission of spreading light and love has taken on even deeper context, as they've reckoned with the loss of two of their own, Paul Beasley and Benjamin Moore, both longtime members of the Blind Boys tight-knit family. Echoes Of The South is released in their honor — as well as for the group's recently-retired leader Jimmy Carter — and keeps the Blind Boys' long-held mission statement at its core: “As long as everybody gives all that they have to give and we sing songs that touch the heart, we'll live on forever.”

In 2022 they had a collaborative recording with Béla Fleck nominated for a Grammy. The nominated collaboration, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," powerfully reimagines the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement originally made famous by Nina Simone. They also have had collaborative recordings and coinciding tours with both Marc Cohn and afro-pop duo Amadou & Mariam. In 2023 they garnered another Grammy nomination for Best Americana Single for "The Message" featuring Black Violin.

Back again in 2024, Blind Boys garnered three Grammy nominations for their album Echoes of the South. Blind Boys now have 15 career nominations, which include six total wins with the 2024 Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album for Echoes of the South.

During his renowned stage show, Bobby Rush frequently jumps high into the air, arms spread and legs tucked, only to land gracefully and return without a hitch to his dazzling routine. It’s a move you might expect at a contemporary R&B show, but it’s downright shocking when you realize that Rush is 90 years old.

"I never thought I would be here this long,” says Rush. “I was 83 years old before I won a Grammy, but it’s better late than never. I laugh about it, but I’m so blessed and I surely never thought I’d be making a living doing what I’m doing. I’m not just an old guy on my way out.”

Hardly. Rush’s busy schedule includes headlining European festivals with his band and solo programs at venues including Jazz at Lincoln Center, recorded an album of brand-new material, All My Love For You, out via his own label Deep Rush Records in collaboration with Nashville-based Thirty Tigers. Over the last several years he’s won a second Grammy, re-recorded his 1971 hit "Chicken Heads" together with his old friend Buddy Guy and young blues star Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, and written a critically acclaimed autobiography, I Ain’t Studdin’ You: My American Blues Story.

That story began in rural Homer/Haynesville, Louisiana, where Rush — born Emmett Ellis, Jr. — grew up on his family’s farm picking cotton, tending to mules and chickens, and living in a home without electricity nor indoor plumbing. He built his first guitar on the side of the family’s house out of broom wire, nails, bottles, and bricks.

The blues, Rush recalls, provided “an escape from the cotton fields. You’d go out on Saturday night to the juke joints, but then on Monday morning you’d go back into the cotton fields to work for your bossman.”

He left behind farm work to perform on the road with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and as “Bobby Rush” — a name he took on out of respect to his father, a minister—he toured the jukes and clubs of Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi before settling in Chicago in the 1950s.

Through singles on labels including Chess, ABC and Philadelphia International and relentless touring Rush established an unparalleled reputation as an entertainer, which later led to him being crowned by Rolling Stone magazine as King of the Chitlin’ Circuit, the network of African American clubs that arose during the segregation era.

Based in Jackson, Mississippi since the early ‘80s, Rush began “crossing over” to new audiences several decades ago, featured in the Martin Scorsese-produced documentary The Road to Memphis, appearing alongside Terrence Howard, Snoop Dogg, and Mavis Staples in the documentary Take Me to the River, and performing on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon along with Dan Aykroyd. And the eternally youthful Rush was even able to play himself in the 1970s in Netflix's 2019 hit biopic Dolemite is My Name in a scene with Eddie Murphy.

And the recognition keeps coming. In addition to his two Grammy wins (and six nominations), he’s in the Blues Hall of Fame, has won 16 Blues Music Awards (among 56 nominations), and there’s currently a musical in development called Slippin’ Through The Cracks with sights on Broadway, recently co-written by Rush and playwright Stephen Lloyd Helper, who co-wrote the 7x Tony-nominated musical Smokey Joe’s Café celebrating the songs of Lieber and Stoller. Rush, meanwhile, still remains steadfastly committed to the African American audiences who sustained him for decades and he looks back from his current vantage point as a seasoned artist celebrated by an ever-growing fan base with his two recent releases, All My Love for You (2023) and his latest, Undercover Lover (2024).