With the premature death of Archie Brownlee from pneumonia on February 8, 1960, gospel lost one of its greatest lead singers. A founding member of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Brownlee was equally impressive singing sweetly or with his characteristic piercing screams that later developed into the soul music of the mid-'60s. Blind since birth, Brownlee enrolled in the Piney Woods School, near Jackson, MS, at the age of six. Within five years, he had begun harmonizing with fellow students Lloyd Woodard, Joseph Ford, and Lawrence Adams. When the school suggested that they tour to raise money, the quartet began appearing as the Cotton Blossom Singers. Catching the ear of Library of Congress folklorist Alan Lomax, the group was invited to record on March 9, 1937. In addition to recording several sacred tunes as the Blind Boys, they recorded three folk tunes as Abraham, Woodard and Patterson. By 1944, the group began performing professionally, singing pop tunes for primarily white audiences, and black church music as the Jackson Harmoneers. With Brownlee leading the way, the Blind Boys of Mississippi attracted an ever-growing following. Their early-'50s single "Our Father" became one of the first gospel tunes to reach the Billboard R&B charts. Brownlee was at his peak of popularity when he succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 35. The Blind Boys of Mississippi have remained one of gospel music's most influential groups.
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