Songwriter Marc Cohn, right, is on tour with The Blind Boys of Alabama. (Courtesy All Eyes Media)

Songwriter Marc Cohn, right, is on tour with The Blind Boys of Alabama. (Courtesy All Eyes Media)

Marc Cohn, Blind Boys collaborate to soulful effect

Singers team on great version of ‘Walking in Memphis’

Initially, Grammy-winning “Walking In Memphis” composer Marc Cohn was curious how his woodsy vocals might sound alongside the seasoned spiritual plaints of gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama. But after co-writing the 2016 song “Let My Mother Live” with band founders Clarence Fountain and Jimmy Carter, he was magnetically drawn to them. Fountain died, but Cohn, Carter and company went on to make the 2019 album “Work To Do,” which includes traditionals like “Walking in Jerusalem” as well as another version of Cohn’s signature tune, which also is being used in a Facebook campaign. “Now that I’ve gotten to know their voices better, I can’t stop writing songs for them to sing,” he says.

Within one recent 24-hour period, I heard “Walking in Memphis” playing in Target, mentioned on “Jeopardy” and soundtracking that “friendlier-Facebook” ad. And it still sounds great, three decades on.

That thing has legs! That’s all I can say. I don’t even understand it. And to be honest, I don’t even feel that I wrote it; it’s a weird thing. I feel so much more connected to all these other songs I wrote that people may not know. And I never dreamed that something so personal would be accepted so universally. Now that song just feels like it belongs to everybody.

It’s also a nice capsule of true fandom.

It’s a song about the innate power of music. And fandom. And looking back, I’m not even sure if I heard any music on Beale Street. And not to mention, that in that particular place, music is everywhere, and not in the places that I expected to find it. What I heard in Al Green’s church [in Memphis] changed my life forever. Al Green was one of my favorite singers, but to hear him sing in his own church, among his own congregation? That was just otherworldly.

You and the Blind Boys, it’s such a good match, it’s amazing that you guys haven’t teamed up before now.

I was asked to write a few songs with them at first, and that song “Let My Mother Live” is actually Jimmy’s story. He used to go to bed every night after his father died as a young blind kid and pray that his mother be allowed to live so that he wouldn’t be alone. That was something I heard in an interview, so I basically took lines that he and Clarence had said and wrote songs not only for them, but about them.

What did they teach you?

A deeper humility. Sometimes out on the road, I’ll think, “Man, what a long, tiresome day.” Then I’ll look over at Jimmy, who’s about to turn 88, and I’ve never once heard him complain. He’s just happy to be there.


Taj Mahal Quartet, Marc Cohn & The Blind Boys of Alabama, Shemekia Copeland

Where: Mountain Winery, 14831 Pierce Road, Saratoga

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20

Tickets: $39 to $275

Contact: (408) 741-2822,


If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Giants second baseman Donovan Solano scores on a double in the seventh inning against the Dodgers at Oracle Park on July 29. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Will the Giants make the playoffs? Kris Bryant may be the answer

By Chris Haft Special to The Examiner You’d be hard-pressed to find… Continue reading

Tiffany Carter, owner of Boug Cali West Coast Creole Shack in San Francisco’s La Cocina Marketplace, was dismayed by gentrification she found when she returned to her hometown to start a business. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF Black Wallstreet: Helping residents build wealth, reclaim spaces they’ve had to leave

Tiffany Carter moved back to her hometown of San Francisco five years… Continue reading

A prescribed fire at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks was conducted in June 2016 to reduce hazardous fuel loading, increase watershed health, and restore the natural fire cycle in the Redwood Canyon area ecosystem. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Paterson/National Park Service)
Experts, UC scientists discuss wildfires in the state’s riskiest regions

Wildfires are nothing new in California’s history, but the magnitude and frequencies… Continue reading

Fourth-grade students at Lucerne Valley Elementary School don masks and Western wear for a “Walk Through California” history day during in-person instruction. (Courtesy of Krystal Nelson)
Confusion over mask mandate for California schools sparks tension between districts and parents

By Diana Lambert EdSource Shifting rules around mask mandates at schools are… Continue reading

Steven Buss, left, and Sachin Agarwal co-founded Grow SF, which plans to produce election voter guides offering a moderate agenda. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Grow SF: New tech group aims to promote moderate ideals to political newcomers

Sachin Agarwal has lived in San Francisco for 15 years. But the… Continue reading

Most Read