The Blind Boys of Alabama kicked off a two-night stand at Durham’s Hayti Heritage Center last Friday night
, in celebration of their new record, I’ll Find a Way
. Bon Iver frontman and former Raleigh resident Justin Vernon produced the album, while his longtime collaborator and Durham resident Phil Cook worked as musical director. The evening began with a solemn memorial and recognition of two members of the group who have passed in recent years, Johnny Fields and George Scott. They also called Durham home, and both founding members had spouses and family members in attendance.
The Blind Boys started with some more contemporary numbers, such as “Spirit in the Sky” and “Down in the Hole,"
the latter of which featured as the title song to HBO’s The Wire
. The group subsequently welcomed Phil Cook and his frequent collaborator Reggie Pace for the remainder of the performance. “My God is Real” and “Take Your Burdens to the Lord and Leave Them There” followed, as the group dug into the deep well of gospel music that has kept them relevant for more than 50 years. Phil Cook, a longtime student of gospel, beamed throughout the evening.
The night wound down with a raucous version of “Look Where He Brought Me," lead by longtime member Jimmy Carter. During the encore, the group thanked Hank Williams Jr. for allowing them to record his father’s most famous gospel number, “I Saw The Light.” The crowd stood and cheered as The Blind Boys filed off stage; as I left, I heard many discuss the idea of returning for Saturday's show.
Below, you'll find a collection of clips from the performance on Friday.