The full story of the Blind Boys of Alabama is finally told in Spirit of the Century: Our Own Story.

Written by the band with “The Chitlin’ Circuit” author Preston Lauterbach, Spirit of the Century covers the Blind Boys’ 1939 beginnings as the Happy Land Jubilee Singers at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind through to the present day. Along the way, the gaping holes in the group’s history – the members who passed through the band, the murky death of its first leader, decades spent toiling in obscurity on the Gospel Highway, some decidedly un-Christian activities on the road, fame and legend status – are filled in with solid research, plenty of archival and contemporary interviews and strong writing.

The Happy Lands, as Lauterbach refers to the early group, turned professional in 1944, leaving behind one Jimmy Carter, who was too young to hit the road, but would come back in the 1980s after a two-decade stint with the Blind Boys of Mississippi to form a “holy trinity” with co-founders George Scott and Clarence Fountain. Carter ultimately became the group’s third leader, after Velma Traylor and Fountain, and kept the title until his 2023 retirement and passing of the reins to Rickie McKinnie.

In a move described as akin to Mick Jagger leaving the Rolling Stones to join the Beatles, Fountain decamped the Alabama Blind Boys in 1969 and temporarily hooked up with the hard-drinking Blind Boys of Mississippi. It was here Fountain and Carter first reconnected and the former, who had girlfriends scattered around the country and six children he denied in his will, eventually moved on to a star-crossed solo career that found him touring with a set of horny conjoined twins and participating in a stolen-car ring before rejoining his original group in the 1970s.

Fountain’s life, Lauterbach writes, was “a maze of complications that make Sophocles seem like Dr. Seuss.”

Carter eventually transferred from the Mississippi to the Alabama Blind Boys and, after the band starred in 1983’s “The Gospel at Colonus,” found mainstream success as the musical “made the Blind Boys of Alabama white-people famous.”

This led to working relationships with Lou Reed, Ben Harper, Peter Gabriel and others. The Blind Boys of Alabama picked up Grammy awards and sung for presidents but never lost their taste for their beloved “Mack Donald’s,” where they stopped on the way to perform for George W. Bush.

“So we go into the White House with a guy named Jimmy Carter and all the rest holding McDonald’s bags,” BBA’s manager is quoted as saying in the book.

There will never be a fuller accounting of the Blind Boys and it comes just in time. Carter, the last surviving original member of the group, is 92 and while the Blind Boys of Alabama plan to continue on indefinitely, their original era is over. That’s all the more reason to give thanks to Lauterbach and for Spirit of the Century, easily the most-informative music biography of the past decade and one most-important to boot.