Music

Living Legends Blind Boys of Alabama in Lone Tree

By Katie Konishi, Marketing Specialist

We throw around the title “living legends” a lot but the Blind Boys of Alabama truly deserve the moniker. Formed in 1939, this group has lived through some of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history and come out singing on the other side – literally. The group’s soulful gospel music has matured over the years, but their mission has never changed. As a track on their new album states, they “Stay on the Gospel Side” in their work.

The founding members of the group met at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega, Alabama. The original group consisted of Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter, George Scott, Johnny Fields, and Tommy Gilmore. Of the original members, Jimmy is the only one still touring with the group. Clarence appears on their latest album, but rarely travels with the group. The group just released a new album titled Almost Home, their 68th album, if Wikipedia is to be believed. 68!

Currently, the line-up of the group consists of founding member Jimmy Carter, Ben Moore, Eric “Ricky” McKinnie, Joey Williams, Trae Pierce, Peter Levin, and Paul Beasley. Clarence Fountain still appears with the group when his health allows. The group has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards and have won six, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. They’ve been invited to the White House by three different administrations: President Clinton in ’94, President Bush in ’02, and President Obama in ‘10.

And while the awards they’ve racked up are certainly impressive, their music really speaks for itself. They practically created the gospel sound of the 21st century and continue to define the genre today. Just see for yourself in the video below of “Singing Brings Us Closer.”

We’re so excited to bring this slice of music history to Lone Tree and hope that you can join us for this uplifting night of music on September 15th at 8pm. Tickets and more information are available here: http://www.lonetreeartscenter.org/blindboys

Fun fact: “Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time,” a Grammy-nominated track from the compilation album God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson was recorded at FAME Recording Studio, which should sound familiar if you saw Muscle Shoals: I’ll Take You There – it’s one of the studios in Muscle Shoals! They also recorded a track from their latest album in Muscle Shoals as well.

“You Must Want!”

EVITA Director’s Notes
by Gina Rattan

Researching and assembling this production of EVITA has been a joy. The deeper and more entrenched in the research I became, the more I was aware of certain key moments in Eva’s early life that influenced her decision-making as an adult.

Eva Perón was known for her tenacity, ambition, perseverance, generosity toward women and children, and her unlikely rise to power from very poor origins. Born in 1919 in the rural outskirts of Buenos Aires, her mother was a poor seamstress who became the mistress to a married man. They had five children together before he left to return to his first family. For Eva’s entire childhood she was beset with gossip and rumors from everyone in her town. She was not legitimate, not to be taken seriously. Her family was a threat to the very values of those who lived in her village.

Gina Rattan

Gina in front of her research

Eva’s world was a harsh one, since her family was very poor, ostracized, and marginalized. Her country was one of an entrenched, stratified class system. Upward mobility or advancement was not an option, particularly not for young women. In Eva’s world, a woman’s purpose was to find a husband and start a family.

She and her sisters were deep fanatics of movies, which they saved and scraped to see when they came to town once a month.  Many films were American, but a few were Argentine, set in the big city. As they do for many of us, movies provided an escape and a romanticized version of a better life, just beyond Eva’s reach in Buenos Aires.

In 1934, at the age of fifteen, she became one of many Argentines to be ferried by the newly minted railway system to Buenos Aires. (Contrary to how it is portrayed in the musical, Eva travelled alone, not in the company of Augustin Magaldi, although he did perform in her hometown.) She became a stage actress quite quickly and started where many young performers do, in the ensemble. As was standard practice for young actresses in the ensemble at this time, she was not paid, nor were her costumes provided by the theater company. Instead, young actresses were expected to find an older gentleman; a punto fijo (steady man) or calballero blanco (sugar daddy) to pay their wage and provide costumes for the show. Eva was once propositioned by the director of a show she was starring in (the Argentine premiere of Lillian Helman’s The Children’s Hour); she turned him down and quit the show.

Her success as a stage actress lead to success as a radio star (her brother also moved to Buenos Aires and owned a soap company which owned a radio station). She was the best paid radio actress of her time. The Argentine radio network was the second largest in the world, next to the United States. Her success there led to her becoming a movie star. She was incredibly successful between ages 15 to 25. She also struggled immensely to make enough money to live. For those ten years, she never lived anywhere that had hot water. In 1944, at the age 25, she met Juan Perón, a man whose ambitions and drive matched her own. Since 1944 and Perón’s rise to power, she has been characterized as the driving force behind his politics, policy, and corruption.

Evita has always been a fascinating musical to me, not only for its lush score, complicated characters, and thrilling dramatization of an historical narrative, but also as it’s one of the first modern musicals (written in 1976) to feature a narrator.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber present us Eva’s story through the lens which women in power are viewed – the perspective of a man. What you’re about to see is an examination of Eva’s story as told and as perceived through the eyes of Che, an erstwhile admirer turned ardent opponent. One who is obsessed and consumed with her public image, accomplishments, failures, and motives. As Eva herself said, “You must want! You have the right to ask! You must desire.”

EVITA opens April 13 and runs through April 29, with a preview on April 12.

Muscle Shoals: I’ll Take You There

by Leigh Chandler, Marketing Director

ds7_4021I know a place. Or at least I thought I knew a place. Like me, many people are aware of the incredible music that’s come out of the recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I also know that it was a tricky place for African-American artists to record in the ‘60s, at a time when racial tensions ran high in the country. But I didn’t know the depth of importance of those studios in helping race relations, or in popularizing “black music,” until I saw Muscle Shoals: I’ll Take You There.

_ds85681Myk Watford and Charlton James, both from that region of Alabama, take on the stories of session musicians, first at FAME studio and then at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. They explain how they just fell into playing for artists that would come to record at both, but they also talk about what it was like to work with the artists recording there. Interspersed with this history lesson is an incredible band, featuring vocalists Felicia Fields, Kenita Miller, and Lannie Counts, playing the hit songs that pair with the stories.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that many artists who headed to Muscle Shoals to record “black music” weren’t aware that the session musicians were white. Given the difficult race relations in the country at the time, many artists were nervous about heading to Muscle Shoals to record, and many felt out of their element. Interestingly, session musicians got to experience that same feeling. Aretha Franklin_ds85658 famously left Muscle Shoals after recording just one song – “I Never Loved A Man” – but she loved the musicians so much that they went to New York to finish recording her album, which included “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” along with other famous hits. They were like fish out of water.

Throughout the show other tidbits come out as well, such as Percy Sledge, an orderly from a local hospital, making his first recording ever and being nervous as all get-out. That song he recorded turned out to be the hit “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Not only did artists sometimes feel out of their element, but people in the small community sometimes were also out of their element in dealing with visiting artists. When Lynyrd Skynyrd came to record “What’s Your Name,” the town wanted to the long-haired hippies to leave. And when The Rolling Stones came to town, Mick Jagger had a fantastic response to a waitress ds7_4091questioning who they were, which I won’t give away.

So much of the music recorded at Muscle Shoals is timeless. You’ll hardly be able to stay in your seat during Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances.” You’ll smile during Paul Simon’s “Love Me Like A Rock.” And you’ll hear more current music coming from the area, like Jason Isbell’s “Alabama Pines.” You’ll marvel at all of the 25+ songs during the performance. The thing to take away, though, is when Kenita Miller, speaking Candi Staton’s words, says that she wasn’t sure about recording with white musicians, but after spending time with them, they were her friends. They were people that she cared about, that she talked about her life with and that talked about their lives with her. It’s an important lesson that rings as true now as it did back then.

Muscle Shoals: I’ll Take You There runs at the Lone Tree Arts Center February 2-12. For more information, visit www.lonetreeartscenter.org.

Here’s a preview: