After winning a Grammy for his soulful ballad “Walking in Memphis,” Marc Cohn solidified his place as one of this generation’s most compelling singer-songwriters, combining the precision of a brilliant tunesmith with the passion of a great soul man. Rooted in the rich ground of American rhythm and blues, soul and gospel and possessed of a deft storyteller’s pen, he weaves vivid, detailed, often drawn-from-life tales that evoke some of our most universal human feelings: love, hope, faith, joy, heartbreak.
Cohn followed up his platinum-selling debut with two more releases in the 1990s, at which point Time magazine called him "one of the honest, emotional voices we need in this decade" and Bonnie Raitt declared, "Marc is one of the most soulful, talented artists I know. I love his songs, he's an incredible singer, and I marvel at his ability to mesmerize every audience he plays for."
Raitt, James Taylor, David Crosby, Graham Nash and Patty Griffin all made guest appearances on Cohn’s early records for Atlantic as his reputation as an artist and performer continued to grow. In 1998, Cohn took a decade-long sabbatical from recording, ending in 2007 with Join the Parade. Inspired by the horrific events following Hurricane Katrina and his own near fatal shooting just weeks before, Parade is his most moving and critically acclaimed record to date.
About his album Listening Booth: 1970, a collection of reimagined classics from that seminal year in music, Rolling Stone said, “Cohn has one of rock’s most soulful croons – a rich, immediately recognizable tenor that makes these songs his own.” In late 2014, Cohn released “The Coldest Corner in the World,” the title song to the documentary Tree Man and his first original song released in more than seven years.
On March 25, 2016, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of his platinum-selling debut album, released Careful What You Dream: Lost Songs and Rarities along with the bonus album Evolution of a Record, featuring never-before-heard songs and demos dating back to years before his debut album and the Grammy award that followed.
Marc’s momentum continued into a busy and fruitful 2017, which he spent in part on the road with the legendary Michael McDonald, garnering critical acclaim across the U.S. His writing talent was also drafted for work with a roster of American music greats including soul survivor William Bell, who won his first Grammy at age 78 with Marc’s help; Marc co-wrote a solid half of Bell’s celebrated album This is Where I Live, including the passionate opening cut “The Three Of Me.” The album revived the sound of Stax soul’s golden age, when Bell had first cut his teeth as an artist, and which had influenced Marc Cohn so powerfully - in its way, completing a circle and letting Marc give back to one of the originators of the sound that shaped him.
Marc revisited another corner of American music’s rich heritage with the Blind Boys of Alabama on the Grammy-nominated song “Let My Mother Live,” and also worked with David Crosby on the album Lighthouse. As powerfully influenced by the singer-songwriter tradition as he is by the legacy of soul and gospel, working with the ‘60s icon was a project that got right to Marc’s creative core.
Moving forward, he continues to do what he does best: infuse American music with both a fresh perspective and a reverence for its deep roots.
The Blind Boys of Alabama
The Blind Boys of Alabama have the rare distinction of being recognized around the world as both living legends and modern-day innovators. They are not just gospel singers borrowing from old traditions; the group helped to define those traditions in 20th century and almost single-handedly created a new gospel sound for the 21st. Since the original members first sang together as kids at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in the late 1930s (including Jimmy Carter, who leads the group today), the band has persevered through seven decades to become one of the most recognized and decorated roots music groups in the world.
Touring throughout the South during the Jim Crow era of the 1940s and 1950s, the Blind Boys flourished thanks to their unique sound, which blended the close harmonies of early jubilee gospel with the more fervent improvisations of hard gospel. In the early 1960s, the band sang at benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and were a part of the soundtrack to the Civil Rights movement. But as the years passed, gospel fans started to drift away and follow the many singers who had originated in the church but were now recording secular popular music. And the Blind Boys, who refused many offers to ‘cross over’ to secular music, also saw their audiences dwindle. However, the Blind Boys persevered and their time came again, starting in the 1980s with their starring role in the Obie Award-winning musical “The Gospel at Colonus,” which began a new chapter in their incredible history. It’s almost unbelievable that a group of blind, African-American singers, who started out touring during a time of whites-only bathrooms, restaurants and hotels, went on to win five Grammy® Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and to perform at the White House for three different presidents.
Few would have expected them to still be going strong—stronger than ever, even—so many years after they first joined voices, but they’ve proved as productive and as musically ambitious in recent years as they did in the beginning. In 2001, they released Spirit of the Century on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label, mixing traditional church tunes with songs by Tom Waits and the Rolling Stones, and won the first of their Grammy Awards. The next year they backed Gabriel on his album Up and joined him on a world tour, although a bigger break may have come when David Simon chose their cover of Waits’ ‘Way Down in the Hole’ as the theme song for the first season of HBO’s acclaimed series The Wire. Subsequent Grammy-winning albums have found them working with the likes of Ben Harper, Robert Randolph, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Allen Toussaint and Willie Nelson.
In 2013 the band worked with Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) to release I’ll Find A Way, a powerful collection of gospel and spiritual songs new and old, featuring some of the Blind Boys’ most fervent vocals as well as contributions by a new generation of Blind Boys fans, including Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, Patty Griffin, and Justin Vernon himself. In 2014 the Blind Boys released Talkin’ Christmas!, a collaboration with Taj Mahal, that continued the band’s streak of creating original and interesting work. It includes new versions of Christmas standards, covers of hidden gospel gems, and seven brand-new holiday songs featuring Money Mark on keyboards, Taj Mahal on vocals and songwriting collaborations with Stax Records soul legend William Bell.
In 2017 the Blind Boys released Almost Home on the band’s own BBOA Records label, in collaboration with Amazon Music. The 12-song collection serves as a fitting capstone to a seven-decade career that has both defined the sound of the American South and pushed it forward from the 20th century and into the 21st. Almost Home was recorded over four different sessions with four different GRAMMY-winning producers in four different cities. John Leventhal recorded the Blind Boys and their band in New York City, Vance Powell in Nashville, Chris Goldsmith in Seattle, and Los Lobos' Steve Berlin at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. The album is composed primarily of original songs which focus on the remarkable journey of the band’s two surviving original members at the time, long-time leader Clarence Fountain (who has since passed away), and current leader Jimmy Carter. It features songwriting contributions from an exceptional collection of artists including Valerie June, North Mississippi Allstars, Phil Cook, John Leventhal, Marc Cohn, Ruthie Foster, and more. Almost Home succeeds in looking backwards, while still sounding as vital and modern as ever.
Since they released their debut single, "I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine," on the iconic Veejay label in 1948, the Blind Boys have been hailed as "gospel titans" by Rolling Stone and have collaborated with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Prince and Lou Reed, and performed on some of the world's most prestigious stages. The New York Times said that they "came to epitomize what is known as jubilee singing, a livelier breed of gospel music," adding that "they made it zestier still by adding jazz and blues idioms and turning up the volume, creating a sound…like the rock 'n' roll that grew out of it." The New Yorker simply called them "legendary."
The Blind Boys' live shows are roof-raising musical events that appeal to audiences of all cultures, as evidenced by an international itinerary that has taken them to virtually every continent. The Blind Boys of Alabama have attained the highest levels of achievement in a career that spans over 75 years and shows no signs of diminishing.