A rich musical blend involving Marc Cohn, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Robert Cray Band and special guest Shemekia Copeland unfolds on Saturday, June 15, at Harrah’s Resort.
And that’s the gospel truth.
With gospel being a major ingredient of blues music, this show brings together a collection of artists who have mastered the combination.
“This will be a joyful noise, hopefully,” Cohn says of the lineup, especially his pairing with the Blind Boys. “I have always been a fan of gospel music, even ‘Walking in Memphis’ (his biggest hit) mentions the Reverend Al Green (the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who gave Cohn the full gospel experience at a Memphis tabernacle church). This whole combination is wonderful. The Blind Boys add that great gospel harmony to my songs. They transform every one of them, which already have an inherent spirituality.”
Cohn is a Grammy Award-winning recording artist who solidified his place as one of the most compelling singer-songwriters of his generation. His voice, strong and soothing, seems to emanate from his soul.
Cohn joins forces with a group hailed as “gospel titans” by Rolling Stone. The Blind Boys of Alabama first rose to fame in the segregated South with vocal harmonies and roof-raising live shows. The group released its debut single, “I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine,” in 1948, launching a 70-year recording career spanning five Grammy Awards plus one for Lifetime Achievement, entry into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and diverse collaborations with the likes of Mavis Staples, Stevie Wonder, Prince and Lou Reed on the world’s most prestigious stages.
Cohn lauds the Blind Boys’ contributions to his songs while lightly downplaying his own.
“What do I add to the Blind Boys? Not much,” he laughs. “I do play on their songs.”
And he helps write them. The connection between them began because Cohn and producer John Leventhal were working on a song for William Bell’s “This Is Where I Live” record, which wound up winning the 2017 Grammy for Best Americana Album. Bell and the Blind Boys share manager Charles Driebe, who introduced Cohn to the “Boys.”
And the rest is, well, history in the making. A summer release of live tracks and studio performances is planned for Cohn and the Blind Boys. Cohn co-wrote three songs for their last record, “Almost Home,” including the Cohn-Leventhal composition “Let My Mother Live,” which was Grammy-nominated for Best American Roots Performance in 2016.
The Atlantic City show figures to involve a couple individual songs from Cohn, some from the Blind Boys and perhaps half a dozen tunes together.
“Collaborations like these are really inspiring for me,” Cohn says. “They continue to be fantastic. What keeps me interested is keeping the audience interested, knowing that you are not going to the same show you have seen before. We are always changing it. Performing with some of my childhood heroes is an absolute blessing.
“What you keep trying to do is keep the window open for something more. What’s left? I have to keep doing what I have been doing, just keep getting better, always learn something new and keep the channel open to receive it.”
Cray is a five-time Grammy winner, with stellar productions that include “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” “Smoking Gun,” “Right Next Door (Because of Me)” and “The Forecast (Calls for Pain)”
His band has recorded 20 studio releases, 15 of which have been on the Billboard charts. The band has also been on the Billboard charts and played bars, concert halls, arenas and festivals.
Copeland recently won two Blues Music Awards: Contemporary Blues Album and Album of the Year, both for “America’s Child.” Her 2000 rocker “It’s 2 AM” remains a hit for her fans.