Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sweet harmony: Blind Boys of Alabama come to D.C.

Singing group Blind Boys of Alabama arrives at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles last February. (AFP/Getty Images)

If you go
Blind Boys of Alabama and Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Where: Warner Theatre

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Info: $28 to $58; 202-785-9727;;
Washington Performing Arts Society invites you to head "Down By the Riverside" and experience the musical partnership of the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Together, they represent 115 years of incomparable music making in a program blending traditional gospel and New Orleans jazz.

Since their founding in 1939 at Alabama's Talladega Institute for the Blind, the Blind Boys of Alabama have earned five Grammy Awards and five Lifetime Achievement Awards. They were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Since their debut concerts before small, segregated audiences, they have spread their beautiful voices around the world many times and rejoin the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Warner Theatre direct from a tour of China.

Lead singer Jimmy Carter has been with the ensemble since the beginning. Speaking from Minneapolis near the close of their annual Christmas tour, he cited the group's fondness for New Orleans as ample reason for joining PHJB and other distinguished local musicians to record their 2009 Grammy Award winner "Down in New Orleans."

"All our members grew up singing and harmonizing in the church. We're a family and, as gospel singers, our goal is to win people over. We've performed often in New Orleans, and although we can't help build houses for the people who still need them, we can bring everyone hope and encouragement. We enjoy touring with the PHJB because they are very nice gentlemen."

Carter is grateful for the opportunity to share his music with the world and the many thrills he and the ensemble have had over the years, performing at the White House among them. The group has been featured on many TV shows and in the Obie Award-winning musical, "The Gospel at Colonus." He especially enjoyed performing on the David Letterman and Conan O'Brien shows and looks forward to another scheduled appearance on the Letterman's show Jan. 31 singing excerpts from their latest recording, "Duets."

Ben Jaffe, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band creative director and tuba player, carries on the tradition established in 1961 by his father and mother, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, to preserve the music of New Orleans. Live music is still performed every night in Preservation Hall where portraits of present and past musicians line the walls.

"I grew up in the French Quarter and lived with its music all my life," he said. "Hurricane Katrina was the turning point in a lot of our lives. Everything in the French Quarter was physically damaged. The storm had a great impact on the community and our family and we've spent the last four years fixing up Preservation Hall so it could become a healing place. The city got through its darkest period because of the music."

When the Blind Boys of Alabama visited New Orleans to make the record, "Down By the Riverside" as a means of earning money for restoration of the city, Jaffe saw the remarkable effect they had on the citizens and how well their two groups meshed.

"The BBA and the PHJB are cultural institutions," he said. "We got the idea to take them both on the road throughout America so audiences who can't get to New Orleans can enjoy these great groups performing together."

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