There is probably no place less suited to gospel music than a casino showroom, despite the fact that the assistance of God often is invoked in front of slot machines and card dealers. For decades, entertainers known for gospel were rarely if ever heard in such environs, with more prominent groups even refusing to enter.
Still, the genre managed to sneak past the velvet ropes. Singers such as Jimmy Dean and Jim Nabors would toss in a “How Great Thou Art” or “He” during performances, and Johnny Cash in his later years turned his show into a downright revival.
The Blind Boys of Alabama originated in 1939, but it took more than 60 years for their name to be on a casino marquee. Saturday night, they’re set to play Harrah’s South Shore Room, once home to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli.
Of course, The Boys (which features several blind members) have always been a little unorthodox in their career. It hasn’t all been churches and revivals. They’ve recorded with an amazing array of entertainers, including Ben Harper, Tom Petty, Peter Gabriel and Prince, and expanded in repertoire (their latest album “I’ll Find a Way” even includes some reggae). In the past few decades, the group has investigated the spiritual aspects of just about every genre.
Members on stage Saturday have witnessed much change. They’ve lived through the Jim Crow period in the South, sang at benefits for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and helped promote civil rights through their music. Gospel may be a broad label these days, but it’s clear that this multiple Grammy Award-winning band has played a pivotal role in defining and modernizing the music. (7:30 p.m.; $52.70; Ticketmaster.com)