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'Spirituals to Funk' pairs Blind Boys of Alabama with Dr. John and the Lower 911 Band

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

Grammy Award winners the Blind Boys of Alabama and Dr. John light up the stage with their latest joint project, "Spirituals to Funk." Their concert at George Mason University is a rousing celebration of their specialties: gospel songs in sublime harmony, and New Orleans blues and jazz.

Jimmy Carter, the lead singer of the Blind Boys of Alabama, has been front and center with the ensemble since it's founding 73 years ago at Alabama's Talladega Institute for the Blind. More than 50 recordings later, they continue giving sold-out concerts wherever they go.

"We've known Dr. John for a while and like working with him," Carter said, speaking from Las Vegas where the tour paused on its way from California to the East Coast. "Traveling with him this time has been a wonderful partnership. Wherever we perform, the crowds and response are amazing. The show appeals to everyone because he sings secular numbers and we sing gospel.

"He comes out first and does his thing, then he calls us out and we do our thing. The Lower 911 Band accompanies us for several numbers. After that, Dr. John comes out again before we join him for the finale and a rousing version of 'When the Saints Go Marching In.' "

Onstage
'Spirituals to Funk'
Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Info: $23 to $46; 888-945-2468; cfa.gmu.edu

The Blind Boys of Alabama have enjoyed working with major artists throughout their career. Along with such collaborators as Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal, they have been guests on numerous TV shows.

Even though Carter and his colleagues grew up singing and harmonizing in the church and were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, they have listened to country music from childhood, so it seemed a natural move to record their first country album. "Take the High Road," released last season, pleased Carter for its uplifting and thoughtful songs. It took them in a new direction with such guest artists as Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Vince Gill and the Oak Ridge Boys, but they are returning to their pure gospel sounds for this tour.

"Audiences love to see the Blind Boys because we try to touch people's lives," Carter said. "Over the years, we've performed on every continent. Two of our favorite places to visit are Australia and Canada. If I had to choose my favorite song and one that people everywhere request, it would be 'Amazing Grace.' It means a lot to us because it was on the record that gave us our first Grammy. What comes from the heart touches the heart."

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