George Scott: 1929 to 2005
It seems odd to say that a singer as powerful as George Scott was quiet. But Scott, who died in his sleep on March 9 at age 75 in Durham, North Carolina, was the quiet Blind Boy Of Alabama. Clarence Fountain has always been the long-lived gospel group’s gregarious frontman, and Jimmy Carter the guy who stops the show by wading into the crowd for a star turn. In contrast, Scott was all business on the microphone, belting out “People Get Ready” or “Run On For A Long Time” in a no-nonsense baritone voice.
“He could be cantankerous sometimes, but he was the best jubilee man going,” Fountain said of his bandmate of seven decades. “He could do anything. He was a good singer in the background, out front, all the way around. Just a good man to have in your group.”
Fountain, Carter and Scott first came together in the 1930s at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega. They were a glee-club singing group called the Happy Land Jubilee Singers before striking out as the Blind Boys Of Alabama, leaving school in the mid-1940s. In the ensuing decades, the Blind Boys became stars on the gospel circuit. They reached a new peak of popularity in the 1990s by crossing over to secular audiences, covering songs by the likes of Prince while working with Ben Harper, Tom Waits and even Blackalicious rapper Gift Of Gab. But they always stayed within the realm of the spiritual.
“I’m just traditional,” Scott said in a 2003 interview. “None of this hip-hop gospel for me. If it’s not traditional, I don’t fool with it. I don’t knock it, you understand, but that’s just how it is. We still do the traditional songs.”
While Scott sang on all the Blind Boys’ albums, including this year’s Atom Bomb, he bowed out of touring last year because of his failing heart and diabetes. As a replacement, the group drafted Rev. Billy Bowers, who sang with the Blind Boys in the 1970s when Fountain was a solo act. Scott didn’t perform at February’s Grammy Awards, where the Blind Boys won their fourth straight Grammy for best traditional gospel album (for last year’s There Will Be A Light). Scott did sing with the Blind Boys at a January 31 show in Chapel Hill, and had expressed interest in rejoining the live act just before he died.
“He called recently and said he was feeling better and felt like he was ready to come back on tour with us,” Blind Boys manager Charles Driebe said. “So this caught us all by surprise. We’d been running without George for six months, and he’d been on-again-off-again for two years before that. Sometimes he was up to coming, sometimes not, and we always respected that. No one could ever replace George Scott, but he definitely made it clear that he wanted us to carry on.”