Thursday, June 7, 2018

Clarence Fountain (1929–2018)

Clarence Fountain, gospel singer and leader of the Blind Boys of Alabama, has died at the age of eighty-eight. The New York Times has an obituary.

Here is one small sample of Clarence Fountain’s voice that’s dear to me: “Stop Do Not Go On,” from The Gospel at Colonus (1985), with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, J.J. Farley and the Original Soul Stirrers, and Sam Butler. Lyrics by Lee Breuer, music by Bob Telson. Based on Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone, as translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. YouTube also has The Gospel at Colonus in its entirety. It’s one of the most remarkable and emotionally powerful reimaginings of ancient myth I know.

comments: 2

Chris said...

I hadn't watched The Gospel at Colonus in it entirety since it first aired, but I did today. It really is extraordinary. I'd love to know the whole backstory of how it was conceived and staged. The whole performance is just seamless.

It puts to shame the kind of piffle that mostly passes for musical theater today.

Michael Leddy said...

From Lee Breuer’s intro to the text: “Zora Neale Hurston made the connection between Greek tragedy and the sanctified church many years ago. The Gospel at Colonus, in fact, could be said to attempt a proof of her hypothesis.

As was the classic Greek performance, the Pentecostal service is a communal catharsis which forges religious, cultural and political bonds. Should not the living experience teach us something of the historical one?”

I’ve never found the Hurston connection. If anyone can pin it down, I’d love to know it.

There’s an interview in which Breuer talks about wanting to redefine catharsis with this work: “right on through pity and terror into joy.”

I showed The Gospel of Colonus two or three times when teaching Sophocles. In one class the general response was the midwestern “That’s different.” On other occasions, students were wowed.