TALLADEGA, Ala. (WIAT) – Jimmy Carter’s first day of school, 80 years ago, literally changed his life forever. It was traumatic for both he and his mother. But today the world renowned Grammy award-winning musician will come home again to unite with current students of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind in a special recording.

At age 87, Jimmy is the lone surviving original member of the Blind Boys of Alabama. The group, and Jimmy has a worldwide fan base and notoriety. Their career has spanned eighty years, 64 albums and numerous awards and performances at the White House and around the world. On April 18, from 10:30 to 2:00, students from AIDB’s Alabama School for the Blind will record with Jimmy a song written by Ron Pullman, “I am with You Still.” The recording session will take place in ASB’s Landreth Music Center which includes a professional recording studio.

Jimmy Carter’s early days at AIDB

Jimmy Carter’s mother, Cassie, was extremely protective of her youngest son. He had become ill as a toddler and lost his eyesight. She struggled with sending him away to school and Jimmy vividly remembers his first day at the Alabama School for the Negro Blind at age seven as a traumatic one for both of them. She visited Jimmy as often as she could. “It tore her to pieces to send me away to school, but it was for the best,” said Jimmy. “I learned how to get along in life, how to survive.” When he was 13 years old, Carter’s father died in a mining accident in Birmingham. The father and son were really close, “and it goes really tough for a while but we survived.”

School life created strong family-like relationships, but it was music that formed lasting bonds of friendship. In 1939, George Scott, Jimmy Carter, Clarence Fountain and several of their classmates began playing and singing together at churches and schools in the Talladega area.

In June of 1944, the group decided to leave school and strike out on their own together to see if they could make a living at what they enjoyed most – music. It was wartime in a segregated South, but these young men, filled with faith, spirit, talent, and determination set out to prove something to themselves and the world.

At age 23, George Scott was the oldest in the group. Jimmy Carter was only 12.The first professional performance of the Happy Land Jubilee Singers was at a Birmingham radio show on June 10, 1944. Then the group began performing throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee – except for Jimmy. His mother felt he was too young to travel with the group and made him go back to school. He rejoined the group in 1953.

Mentoring the Next Generation

On April 18, Jimmy Carter will share his insights and musical experiences with the next generation of students at his alma mater. The session will begin at 10:30 with a question/answer session and then students will record their part of a very special song, “I am With You Still.” The song was originally written by Ron Pullman as a tribute from Jimmy Carter to his longtime friend classmate and band member, Clarence Fountain.

Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind was founded in 1858. The Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind, where the original members of the Blind Boys of Alabama attended, was created in 1891 and merged with other programs of AIDB in 1969.

Courtesy: Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind 

WATCH Jimmy Carter record new song with AIDB students on Talladega!