The Blind Boys of Alabama at New Hope Baptist Church

by Chad Campbell, senior producer

“The” Jimmy Carter and Bob in a church classroom before Jimmy and the rest of the Blind Boys performed to a packed house at New Hope Baptist ChurchDuring our visit to New Orleans during Jazz Fest, we wanted to talk with The Blind Boys of Alabama. The day and time that fit best into everyone’s schedule was on Monday morning, before their performance at New Hope Baptist Church. When we arrived around 9am the place was pretty quiet, but by show time it was bursting with church members, neighbors and gospel music fans in town for the festival. We talked with Jimmy Carter, a founding member of The Blind Boys of Alabama in a classroom at the church, then went back to grab a pew to enjoy the beginning of the show before dashing off to our next interview.

Bob enjoying his seat before giving it up to a regular

The Blind Boys just concluded a week-long run of concerts at the Lincoln Center. Click here to learn more about those shows. And the group has already started recording that country-gospel album Jimmy Carter told Bob about in the interview. They plan to return to the studio to finish up after their three shows in New York. Here is the link to find out where the group will be playing the rest of the year. Bob cites the group’s performance with Morgan Freeman in Gospel at Colonus as their breakthrough to a more mainstream audience. Since then, the Blind Boys play to more white, public radio types than black church members. You can purchase the DVD and the CD of the original cast recording online. The group dates back to 1939, they started singing professionally together in 1944 and their first recording is from 1948. Some of their more recent releases includes Duets, Atom Bomb, Higher Ground, Down in New Orleans and There Will Be a Light. Oh and the Blind Boys of Alabama have won five Grammys (including four in a row) AND a lifetime achievement award last year. 

Bob and Jimmy “Jimster” Carter after our interview

When we returned to New Orleans over the July 4th weekend, we also returned to New Hope Baptist Church to speak with two deacons, Arthur Garrett and Eric Brown. We spoke about their church, this neighborhood, their city and their experiences since Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and this building in August and September 2005. Garrett has been a member for five decades and grew up in this neighborhood, which he describes as being populated by “black folks struggling to make it.” He remembers this building from his childhood as a movie theater. The church moved here in 1965 and since the floor still slopes down towards the front, the first dozen pews were ruined in the three feet of Katrina floodwater they got. Garrett is the church’s Chairman and Brown is a former banker who now works as New Hope’s Chief Financial Officer. He’s been a member here his entire life and lost the entire first floor of his home in the city’s Gentilly neighborhood.

New Hope Baptist Church deacons Eric Brown and Arthur Garrett

Starting August 4th (and on the next several Wednesdays and weekends), you’ll be hearing from many more guests like this as we present our series of interviews called “Washing Away: The Culture and Ecology of Coastal Louisiana.” We’ll feature scientists discussing how the wetlands work and why they’re so important, we’ll take a boat ride through the swamp south of Houma, we’ll hear from wildlife biologists on the animals being affected by loss of habitat, witness oily birds being cleaned, talk with a shrimper now working with BP, an oyster farmer and a duck hunter and look at how New Orleans is faring five years after Katrina with urban farmers at Hollygrove and local entrepreneurs nurtured at the Idea Village.

Click here to see pictures from our latest trip to southern Louisiana.

Click here to see more pictures of our first New Orleans adventure.

Next week in part nine of our almost concluded music series, we narrowly escape the hotel room of the very rambunctious 78-year-old singer Keely Smith.

Here’s the full schedule for our summer music series:

Dr. John - May 26 click here to listen - click here to read our blog entry

Ben Jaffe - June 2 - click here to listen - click here to read our blog entry

Stanton Moore / Trombone Shorty - June 9 click here to listen - click here for our blog entry

Anders Osborne / Theresa Andersson - June 16 - click here to listen - here’s that blog entry

Allen Toussaint - June 23 - click here to listen - click here to read our blog entry

Irma Thomas - June 30 - click here to listen - click here to read that blog entry

Roger Lewis (of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band) - July 7 - click here to listen - here’s that blog entry

Jimmy Carter (of The Blind Boys of Alabama) - July 14 - click here to listen

Keely Smith - July 21

Jon Cleary - July 28