During a lifetime of music, Baton Rouge resident Clarence Fountain co-founded the world-famous Blind Boys of Alabama gospel group, won five Grammy Awards and starred with Morgan Freeman on Broadway and TV in “The Gospel at Colonus.”
For “The Book of Clarence,” a documentary that will screen at 6:45 p.m. Saturday at the Louisiana International Film Festival, the 87-year-old Fountain reunited with Lee Breuer, the playwright-director of “The Gospel at Colonus.” A Q&A with Fountain and filmmakers Breuer and Eric Marciano will follow Saturday’s screening.
“The Book of Clarence” combines scenes from the 1985 filmed version of “The Gospel at Colonus” with recent footage of Fountain singing at home, in recording studios and small churches in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. There’s also footage of the Blind Boys of Alabama at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2009, Fountain’s final appearance with the group.
“In this movie, I’m just telling people about my life and the things that I did,” Fountain said. “I talk about how I came up through the hard times, the good times and the bad times. I’m just honored to be telling people that, if you live a Christian life, this is the way it had to be done.”
Fountain and Breuer stayed in touch after they worked together on “The Gospel at Colonus.” Based on Sophocles’ “Oedipus at Colonus,” the musical theater piece received Pulitzer and Tony Award nominations and an Obie Award for best musical.
“Lee is winding down,” Fountain said. “He’s 80 now; so he’s done his job. It’s a blessing just to be in his company. I’m glad that he thought about me, instead of somebody else.”
Fountain considers “The Book of Clarence” to be another of the many blessings he’s received.
“Due to the fact that, when you live a good life, this is what the Lord brings you to,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of movies, but I never made a movie about myself. It’s a good thing. I think people will like it. There’s good singing in it, good dancing, good everything.”
The duo's participation in “The Gospel at Colonus” created a new audience for Fountain and the Blind Boys of Alabama more than 40 years into the group’s career.
“We signed with an agency out in California, and they sent us all over the world,” Fountain said. “What we had to offer was the same thing that the rock ’n’ roll had to offer, and that is to make music that’s enjoyable for everybody.”
Even without singing the secular music that made Fountain’s late friend and onetime gospel peer, Sam Cooke, a pop star, the Blind Boys of Alabama eventually crossed over to a secular audience in a big way.
After “The Gospel of Colonus,” the group won its Grammy Awards, performed at music festivals and concert halls throughout the world and worked with Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver), Solomon Burke, Dr. John, and Willie Nelson, among many others.
Fountain stopped touring with the Blind Boys in 2007, but later performed and recorded with Sam Butler Jr., the former Blind Boys guitarist who appears in “The Book of Clarence.” Health issues have since led to his retirement from touring and performing.
In 1999, Fountain and his wife, Barbara, a native of Bunkie, moved to Baton Rouge from Detroit. There were looking for a warmer place to live.
“It’s so cold in Detroit a bird can’t hardly fly,” Fountain said. “Yes, nice sunshine in Baton Rouge. Of course, I didn’t know a flood was coming.”
During the August flooding in south Louisiana, four feet of water invaded the Fountains’ home. They lost most of their possessions, including Fountain’s CD and album collection. His five Grammy Awards, however, were saved.
Like so many residents of areas that had never before flooded, the Fountains had no flood insurance. Aided by an online GoFundMe campaign, their church and FEMA, the Fountains moved back into their house last month.
“If you stay in the will of God, then you have nothing to worry about,” Fountain said. “All the flood, everything else, he’ll bring you out of all of that. I pray all the time that the Lord will let me live till he gets ready to take me home. And in the meantime, if you live right, guess what? You’ll be right.”
“The Book of Clarence”
Screened as part of the Louisiana International Film Festival
WHEN: 6:45 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Cinemark Perkins Rowe, 10000 Perkins Rowe