Cover Image: Spirit of the Century

Spirit of the Century

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Hachette Books for an advance copy of this look at the history of one of the most popular and long lasting gospel groups in music history, and their remarkable highs, lows while singing of the Lord.

There is a line from the song Walking in Memphis, written by Marc Cohn and covered by the incomparable Cher where the narrator has come to a club and hears a gospel play. The narrator is invited to sing with him and he well sings with all his might. When asked if he was Christian, the narrator answers, "Man I am tonight". This was always my relationship with gospel music. I was into jazz from my father, the blues cause I was depressed, and working in a record store with a lot of used cds and eclectic tastes loved playing anything I didn't know. Gospel has an assuredness to it, a positivity that everything no matter what will get better. That things might be low, but the good Lord, is got an eye on you, and things will be ok. When I first saw The Blind Boys of Alabama, I was surprised at their age, and even more surprised by the power of their voices. These were men who has sung thick and thin, to vast crowds, and empty rooms due to promoters stealing their advances, who sang with a power, a beauty, and a need. And now they tell their story, the gospel truth I should say. Spirit of the Century: Our Own Story by The Blind Boys of Alabama with Preston Lauterbach is a history of the men, the places the came from, the music they loved, and the people they touched, famous and unknown, friends, family, and book reviewers.

The book begins with Jimmy Lee Carter, seven years old, being left by his mother at the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, Alabama. Carter's family wanted only the best for Jimmy and thought that the school would train him. The school offered braille classes, and training in how to make mops and brooms. However the school was also a dangerous place, where deaf and blind students would fight at night, the students were locked in with no way of escaping in fire, and though the students worked, the fields, the students were undernourished, the good food going to the white children. However their escape was music, first heard on the radio at the local store, a place they would travel to arm on each other shoulders, to hear the sounds, and get some treats. Soon their was a band, made up of older kids, who let Jimmy sing, but they formed the genesis of The Blind Boys of Alabama. And soon they were on the road, performing for church groups, engaging in contests against other gospel groups, especially The Blind Boys of Mississippi. And engaging in things that were quite surprising, playing with guns, hanging around the ladies, and having members come and go all the time. As time passed their reputation grew, along with a few controversies, though they are still up for Grammy nominations today.

A book that was far more revelatory than I expected. I was sure I would learn alot about gospel music, and the Chitlin circuit, and discrimination. However blind and deaf students battling at night. The Blind Boys themselves fighting each other. The amount of girlfriends. A Gospel promoter vowing to kill someone if they ever recorded again, or appeared in Texas. The music industry is a lot of fun. This is a fascinating book, with a log of great writing, and an incredible amount of research. There are a lot of people sharing stories, giving their view on episodes, and talking about what it was like being in the group or just around them. I never knew there was so much animosity between gospel groups. What does come across is the power of the music, and the fact that so many of these men sang well, well past retirement age, with a power and well glory. A wonderful look at an era in music that really needs to be explored more.

Recommended for music fans and for cultural historians trying to get a sense of an era. Almost every page has something interesting, not just about music, but about business, or travelling around the church circuit.

Was this review helpful?

Excellent survey/history of both The Blind Boys and gospel quartets in the United States. Fans of this musical genre will very much enjoy this well researched and well written tribute to the Blind Boys of Alabama. This story which spans generations is told with a touch of humor and a skillful blend of individual story mixed with national times and events adding rich context to the book.

Was this review helpful?

For someone who first learned of the group within the last 15 years, this is a surprising and shocking history of the group members through the decades. Reading like a written soundtrack of the group, Spirit of the Century covers the highs and lows of a phenomenal career and personal backgrounds of the singers. The glimpse behind their success covers the gamut of readers' emotional responses as well. 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of the book without obligation. This review is my opinion.

Was this review helpful?