Clarence Fountain, one of the founding members of the five-time Grammy Award-winning American gospel quartet the Blind Boys Of Alabama, has died at the age of 88 on 4 June in Baton Rouge, AP reports.
Fountain passed away at a local hospital and his death was confirmed by his manager Charles Driebe. No cause of death has been given.
Along with The Pilgrim Travelers and The Soul Stirrers, the Blind Boys of Alabama were one of the “big three’ in the completive world of gospel singing and helped usher gospel music into the mainstream.
Originally called the Happyland Jubilee Singers, the group started out as a singing group at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind in Talladega and would venture off campus to perform for the soldiers at a nearby training camp. Under this name they had first hit single in 1948, ‘I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine’ for Vee-Jay Records. That same year, they played a concert that was presented as a competition between two groups of blind boys from Alabama and Mississippi and the moniker stuck.
Fountain’s manager shared this in a statement following the news of the singer’s death:
“These men were both raised as blind, African American males in the Deep South during the Jim Crow years, and they were sent to a school where the expectation for them was to one day make brooms or mops for a living”, said Driebe. “But they’ve transcended all that. The arc of their lives and of the band reflects the arc of a lot of changes in American society, and we wanted to find a way to capture their experiences in songs.”
Throughout the 50s and 60s when gospel’s popularity extended beyond the church, the group released a number of records through Specialty Records And Vee-Jay, but they never fully embraced the genres of R&B and rock and roll they helped birth.
“There was no way we were going to go pop or rock,” Fountain is quoted in the posthumous press release.
“Who needed it? Our bellies were full, we had no headaches, we were happy. At least I was happy, singing real gospel.”
As musical tastes shifted, the Boys continued to record, collaborating with contemporary secular artists like Lou Reed, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, kd lang, Bonnie Raitt and Ben Harper.
In 2003, Fountain along with the rest of the Blind Boys Of Alabama were inducted into the Gospel Hall Of Fame in 2003.
Fountain would continue to perform with the group until 2007, when he stopped touring due to complications from diabetes, but he did sing on the group’s most recent album, 2017’s Almost Home.
Clarence Fountain is survived by his wife, Barbara. The funeral details have not yet been confirmed.
Read the band’s full statement here.