In 1975, glaucoma robbed Eric "Ricky" McKinnie of his eyesight but not his vision.
That's never wavered.
"I'm not blind," McKinnie told The Bee recently, "I just can't see."
McKinnie is a drummer, vocalist and road business manager for the Blind Boys of Alabama.
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A traditional-style gospel singing group, the Blind Boys' uplifting sound has captured four Grammy Awards and the hearts and minds of thousands of fans.
The Blind Boys will perform Sunday afternoon at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
"You can expect to have a good time," said McKinnie, who's been with the group about 20 years. "Our music is happy. If you come to one of our shows feeling sad, you won't leave that way."
The ensemble's concert at the Gallo Center will mark the second time it's played Modesto in as many years -- the Blind Boys packed the State Theatre in March 2006.
Formed in 1939 at Alabama's Talladega Institute for the Blind, the singing group initially was known as
The Happyland Jubilee Singers.
That name stuck until the late 1940s, when they played on the same bill as another blind singing group, the Jackson Harmonies.
The concert promoter decided to bill the show as a contest between "the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi." Both groups embraced the idea.
Today, the group is known as the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Though original member Jimmy Carter is expected to perform with the ensemble Sunday, he was unable to speak with The Bee earlier this week because he was resting a sore throat.
"He'll be there," McKinnie said. "He had some laryngitis, but he's fine."
Another original member of the group, Clarence Fountain, won't be at the show, however.
In January, the band announced that Fountain had given up the road -- the Blind Boys perform as many as 200 concert dates in a year -- due to ongoing complications from diabetes.
Fountain, who appeared with the band when it played Modesto in 2006, also is absent from the singing group's latest CD, "Down in New Orleans."
Ben Moore, however, is considered a strong replacement.
Moore, who has appeared with the Blind Boys in more than 100 performances, is a Grammy-nominated gospel singer in his own right. Over the years, he's also worked with Otis Redding and James Brown.
In addition to Carter, McKinnie and Moore, the Blind Boys are Joey Williams, Caleb "Bobby" Butler, Tracy Pierce and Billy Bowers.
Carter, McKinnie, Moore and Bowers are the blind members of the seven-piece ensemble.
With the group on the verge of its 70th anniversary, personnel changes are to be expected. Despite that, the
Blind Boys have managed to maintain the group's original sound and spirit while incorporating new musical ideas along their seven-decade pilgrimage.
Nothing demonstrates that better than the Blind Boys' latest CD, which features New Orleans musicians like singer/songwriter/pianist Allen Toussaint, as well as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Hot 8 Brass Band.
And that New Orleans "street beat" style is evident in the CD's opening cut, "Down in New Orleans" -- a musical retelling of the spiritual "Free At Last."
Over the years, the Blind Boys also have added a number of secular songs to their "book." Those songs, however, all share a common theme -- a positive message. An example of that on the group's new CD is the song "Make a Better World," written by the late Earl King.
But there was more to the singers' New Orleans trip, McKinnie said, than gathering new ideas to add to the Blind Boys' musical repertoire.
"We wanted to let the people there know that we haven't forgotten about them."
McKinnie said those attending the Blind Boys' Sunday afternoon concert can expect to hear several selections from the new recording.
"We're going to have a great time," he said. "If you miss this one, you're really going to miss something."
To hear song clips of the Blind Boys of Alabama, visit the band's Web site at www.blindboys.com.
Bee staff writer Mike Mooney can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2384.
WHAT: Blind Boys of Alabama
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Mary Stuart Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
CALL: 338-2100; toll free, 877-488-3380