From young children to seasoned adults, the audience at Wolf Trap for Black Violin and the Blind Boys of Alabama concert consisted of highly engaged fans. 

Black Violin’s Impossible Tour hit the stage with flash and full-volume mash-ups of classical and hip hop music. Admirers found themselves stirred into a frenzy by Kev Marcus and Wil B, friends since public school days in Ft. Lauderdale. Accompanying the violin/viola duo were DJ SPS, drummer Nat Stokes and pianist Liston Gregory III.

I first saw Black Violin perform at the District’s Ballou High School several years ago and immediately became a follower. They have stayed true to their mission of erasing stereotypes. Kev said while he and Wil could have taken a different path like sports, the opportunity for music came along which led to college and to performances around the world.

“We’ve been trying to get to Wolf Trap for many years,” Kev said, acknowledging that the show had to be rescheduled twice due to COVID-19.

Wil B. serves as the primary vocalist and delivers a soothing voice. His interpretation of the Daniel Caesar & H.E.R. song “Best Part” counted as a gentle detour from some of the high-energy songs delivered by the entire ensemble.

As for the opening act, the Blind Boys of Alabama, it’s hard to believe that they’ve been going strong for 70 years. Through changes in personnel over the decades, the group has remained true to its gospel roots. The current lineup includes: Ricky McKinnie; the Rev. Julius Love; Joey Williams, the music director/guitarist); and Jimmy “Jimster” Carter, an original member and primary lead singer. 

Paul Beasley, another member, did not perform at Wolf Trap due to a family illness. Carter said gospel music is what the Blind Boys do. Holding on to each other while being led on stage, the audience erupted as they welcomed the performers looking dapper in their light gray silk/satin suits.

I spoke to McKinnie the day before the Wolf Trap show. He’s been in the group for 34 years, singing second tenor and some lead. And while The Blind Boys have always had a strong following, their popularity increased following a featured role in “The Gospel at Colonus,” the 1983 Obie award-winning African-American musical based on the Greek tragedy Sophocles’ “Oedipus at Colonus.” The musical also aired on PBS stations.

“It let people know that we were more than just a group of blind guys who could sing,” McKinnie said. “It was a very wonderful time.”

At Wolf Trap, the group sang their arrangements of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and “Amazing Grace.” They recorded these renditions years ago but they felt fresh and contemporary. Where the Blind Boys show up also adds to their popularity. In Tyler Perry’s “Medea Goes to Jail,” it is the Blind Boys singing “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” It is the Blind Boys performing “Down in the Hole,” the theme for the HBO’s “The Wire.” That was a cover of a Tom Waits song. 

They have performed with fellow great music artists including Bonnie Raitt, Solomon Burke, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, George Clinton, Robert Randolph, Meshell Ndegeocello and Les McCann. The Blind Boys have won five Grammy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and performed at the White House for three different presidents.

McKinnie and I wrapped up our chat discussing the longevity of the Blind Boys and how their sound crosses generations.

“Music is music,” he said. “As long as it touches the heart, it’s good music and it makes you feel good.” 

He closed with the motto for the Blind Boys.

 “I’m not blind; I just can’t see,” McKinnie explained. “I may have lost my sight but I never lost my vision. 

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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