POSTED ON APRIL 17, 2013:
Sing for the Fences
Lots of harmonies, old and new
Although it tends to slip our minds as it sits to the southeast, Tulsa has one incredible little treasure tucked away in its suburbs in the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center (BAPAC). As a center for music and theater alike, the BAPAC has been bringing the community some amazing entertainment. Unfortunately, it often gets overlooked by many of us, as it doesn't sit in the center of Tulsa and becomes something of a stealth provider for the arts.
This weekend, the BAPAC presents another show that has largely flown under the radar, but deserves some big attention with its Boys Night Out program on Saturday night at 7:30pm, April 20. At first, the combination of The Oak Ridge Boys and Blind Boys of Alabama may seem like an odd pairing, but after a little consideration, it proves to be something of a brilliant partnership. After all, both groups have rich histories that reach back to their gospel roots, yet both have seen great crossover success. And with over 140 years of history and experience between the two groups, audiences are surely in for a night of great music.
Country vs. Gospel
The Oak Ridge Boys may be an old-school country act, but the group has a signature sound that still stands out from its peers. Four-part harmonies and upbeat songs have always been a part of The Oak Ridge Boys' formula and it has spawned over a dozen country hits, a No. 1 single and Grammy, Dove, CMA and ACM awards. More than just a country act, though, the quartet has roots in gospel music in addition to four decades of charted singles and over 50 years of tradition.
Originally based in Knoxville, Tenn, The Oak Ridge Boys' history scrolls back to WWII, when the group began performing country and gospel music in nearby Oak Ridge, where the atomic bomb was being developed. In the fall of 1945, the group began making regular appearances at the Grand Ole Opry and was featured in Time Magazine as one of the top drawing gospel groups in the nation in the mid-1950s.
Although the group rotated members through the late 60s, its membership was set by 1973 when Richard Sterban and Joe Bonsall joined Duane Allen and Richard Lee Golden in the group. The group continued to play to gospel audiences, but was asked to open a number of dates for Roy Clark in 1975, which opened doors for the group to cross over to the country format. When the band hit the country charts with "Y'all Come Back Saloon" in 1977, its course in country music was set. The group was asked to sing backup for Paul Simon on "Slip Slidin' Away," and went on to record with country icons like George Jones, Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers, Bill Monroe, and even Ray Charles and Shooter Jennings.
Of course, the band's biggest hit and chart-topping single "Elvira" came in 1981, but the group didn't stop there. In 2009, the band recorded a new CD, The Boys Are Back, and stretched its wings creatively at the encouragement of producer Dave Cobb, adding its four-part harmonies to a different take on "Seven Nation Army." In 2011, the group released It's Only Natural for Cracker Barrel stores, including seven rerecorded hits, including "Elvira", and five new tracks. Never content to sit still, the group continues to perform and brings its vocal showcase to town as part of the weekend's show.
Originally formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939, The Blind Boys of Alabama played exclusively on the black gospel circuit for almost 40 years, playing venues ranging from churches to small arenas. Although the group had a chance to cross over into popular music in the 1950s with their friend and contemporary Sam Cooke, the group stayed true to its gospel calling.
In the 1960s, the group became part of the civil rights movement and performed at a number of benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King, but toiled in near obscurity through the 1970s as popular music passed them by. The group's stature changed in 1983, however, when the Obie award-winning play The Gospel at Colonus brought the group and its sound to a whole new audience. In the 1990s, the group received two Grammy nominations and performed twice at the White House.
Since then, The Blind Boys of Alabama have become icons in their genre and earned the respect of their pop music peers, having won five Grammy Awards and recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Peter Gabriel, K.D. Lang, Randy Travis, Charlie Musselwhite, Susan Tedeschi, Asleep at the Wheel and many others.
More than just a gospel group, Blind Boys' influence has been felt within the pop, country and blues genres, and the band has been embraced by rock fans as well, especially within the jam-band community.
Most recently, the group stretched its wings musically into traditional country music in 2011. Take the High Road was inspired by a meeting with rising country star Jamey Johnson, and the group finally reached out in a country gospel direction with an all-star cast that included appearances by Vince Gill, the Oak Ridge Boys, Hank Williams, Jr., and Lee Ann Womack.
The album combined classic country elements with The Blind Boys' distinct vocal style and set a new standard for the band as well as reaching another demographic. Nearly 75 years after the group's inception, the Blind Boys of Alabama continue to recreate themselves while staying true to their gospel roots.
The two iconic groups come together to show everyone just how vital they continue to be within their genres by continuing to open their minds to new things. Tickets are still available for this Saturday night's show and range from $30-$60.
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