“In the Black church, blindness has always carried a special gift. Blind Willie Johnson, Reverend Gary Davis, Arizona Dranes, Blind Willie McTell, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, The Blind Boys of Alabama: all have had a unique role in giving American song its soul.
With writer and host Dave Marash we’ve spent years researching documents, graphics and photographs, unearthing rare archival sound from the Library of Congress—and from little-known commercial sources to produce an hour-long public radio documentary Heavenly Sight.
We’ve uncovered stories of these blind musicians: learning music at segregated schools; singing or being robbed on street corners; navigating and changing the music industry:
- Arizona Dranes, who traveled the southwest helping found Pentecostal churches before being “discovered” by Okeh Records.
- Reverend Gary Davis influenced legions of guitarists including Jerry Garcia, Ry Cooder, Dave Van Ronk, and Bob Dylan. A blind singer and preacher, he “was constantly having his guitars stolen from him,” says his former ‘lead boy’ David Bromberg. As a consequence, “when he’d fall asleep in his chair, as soon as he woke up, the first thing he did was draw a pistol.”
- Singer and guitarist Flora Molton staked out a corner of Washington DC. “A rough sister,” says Dr. Reagon. On the streets “You walked into her sound… you were breathing her air.”
- And we take the past into the future with Blind Willie Johnson– one of the greatest bottleneck guitarists — whose iconic moan “Dark was the Night” went into space on the Voyager space probe; the music of a nearly obscure blind black man selected to represent the human race.
While the funding we received from grants was enough to complete the radio documentary it left no resources to properly fund the promotion of the documentary to public radio stations or build a true companion website. We seek to bring the hour-long radio doc. to more stations and build a lasting web resource.
With your help, we’ll bring all these resources together to build a dynamic website and engage in a marketing plan that helps bring Heavenly Sightto hundreds, rather than a handful, of stations. With an array of multimedia elements, Heavenlysight.org will be easily accessible to visually-handicapped visitors following best practices from the National Federation of the Blind and the Perkins Institute.
The website will bring the panorama of blues and gospel styles well beyond the documentary audience — drawn by curiosity, by social media, blog posts, search engines and enthusiasm for the authentic styles and artists whose work we bring to light. Our library of the music and musician interviews will be a continuing resource for education and entertainment.
Every Kickstarter project must be fully funded before its time expires or else we do not collect any pledges.”
To support this project visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1099992656/heavenly-sight-a-vision-out-of-blindness.