World War II was on its last legs when young Jimmy Carter, age 10, and the other original members of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama played their first professional show.
Carter, now 83, is the last founding member still performing, since health problems no longer allow Clarence Fountain, the other surviving original member, to do so.
The venerable gospel group – which dropped “Five” from its name years ago, but otherwise continues to feature blind vocalists renowned for their fervent singing backed by a supporting band – will perform a 75-minute set at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Tralf Music Hall (622 Main St.).
Carter said in a recent phone interview that seven decades of performing and advancing age haven’t dimmed the satisfaction he derives from being on stage.
“When you love what you do, that keeps you motivated. We love singing gospel music. We’ve been doing it all our lives, and it’s all we know how to do,” Carter said. “I love it, especially when they send me out in the crowd. I still have a little bit left,” he laughed.
Nor does Carter have an issue with playing in nightclubs, as some gospel performers do. “We will play anywhere we are invited. If we are invited to a nightclub we will play there, because a lot of people don’t go to church, so you bring the church to them.”
The Blind Boys, who have performed in the White House for the past three presidents, had an unexpected triumphant role on Broadway in 1983 in the “Gospel at Colonus.” They have also found a following with hipsters, reflected in their performance, with Lou Reed, of the Velvet Underground song “Jesus” on “Late Night with David Letterman” in 2010, and their appearance next month at the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.
Carter said he looks forward to returning to Buffalo, where he lived on Best Street for several years in the 1960s. He remembered attending a church on High Street led by the Rev. Sammy K. Lewis, who sang with both the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Blind Boys of Mississippi.
“I liked Buffalo, but I had to leave. It just got too cold for me,” Carter said.
Carter said he is confident the Blind Boys could continue without him. He added, “I hope that’s a long time from now.”
Who: Blind Boys of Alabama
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Tralf Music Hall, 622 Main St.