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  • Meet the Artist: The Blind Boys of Alabama with Ben Heppner
Tue May 16, 2017

Meet the Artist: The Blind Boys of Alabama with Ben Heppner

The Blind Boys of Alabama

Origin

It was as children in their native Alabama in the 1930s that the original members of the Blind Boys of Alabama, Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter, George Scott, Velma Bozman Traylor, Johnny Fields, Olice Thomas, and J.T. Hutton, first sang together.

Music and background

In their 77 years, the Blind Boys have collaborated with Ben Harper, Mavis Staples, Willie Nelson, Bon Iver – to name only a few. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s they sang at benefits for Martin Luther King Jr. Their current music presents a new gospel sound for the 21st century that borrows from old traditions and builds on the genre that the group helped define.

Accolades

The Blind Boys have won five GRAMMY Awards including a lifetime achievement GRAMMY, performed for three US presidents, and in 2003 were inducted into the Gospel Music Fall of Fame.

The latest

Their latest album was a Christmas collaboration with Taj Mahal. In 2016, they received two more GRAMMY nominations for their contribution to God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson. The Blind Boys still perform regularly throughout North America and worldwide.

Little known fact…

The Blind Boys of Alabama are known among younger audiences from their cover of Tom Waits’ song “Way Down in the Hole” which was the theme song for HBO’s The Wire.

"The Blind Boys of Alabama have little left to prove. In nearly 75 years of raising their voices to the heavens, the Blind Boys have set the standard for gospel greatness."

Washington Post, 2013

Ben Heppner

Origin

Ben Heppner is a Canadian tenor, originally from Dawson Creek, BC. He studied music right here at the UBC School of Music.

Music and background

One of the world’s great dramatic tenors, Heppner’s career has focused on opera, but when returning to his childhood roots to sing gospel, Heppner ‘checks his opera voice at the door’ and takes his lead from the guys who made gospel what it is.

Accolades

Heppner was the winner of the 1988 Met Opera Auditions. Since then he has performed on the biggest stages in the world and in numerous new productions at the Met. In 2010 he originated the role of Captain Ahab in Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick, and in 2012 the Ben Heppner Vocal Music Academy in Toronto was named after him.

The latest

Heppner retired from the opera stage in 2014 but, lucky for gospel fans, he hasn’t quite stayed away from singing altogether. In 2015, Ben Heppner recorded a series of gospel standards with the Blind Boys of Alabama for CBC Music – some of which will feature in this concert.

Little known fact…

Heppner is the host of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on CBC Radio, and is a Companion of the Order of Canada.

"There are many great artists working in this field, but only a few might share with Ben the rare combination of a unique voice, a humble, honest, humorous, cordial down-to-earth personality, and the capacity to powerfully express and deeply move."

Johannes Debus, COC

 

The Blind Boys of Alabama with Ben Heppner will be at the Chan Centre on Saturday September 23rd, 2017 at 8pm.

Don’t miss the chance to see these two incomparable acts as they present their takes on gospel classics, and perform a set of songs together.

 

 

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