ASHEBORO — Sterling Glass has gone from the darkest valley to the brightest mountaintop.
The Asheboro resident recalled his journey from severe depression to “being in a dream. It’s amazing that God would give me favor to be part of something this large.”
At 47, Glass is the “youngest singer with the Blind Boys of Alabama,” the famed international group that’s marking 80 years of professional music making. But his path to touring all over the world first took him to the depths of despair.
Five years ago, Glass was working 12-hour shifts with a Greensboro company. His favorite hobby was restoring old cars.
Although he was diabetic, Glass said he had 20-20 vision and otherwise was in good health. But his wife, Jamie, wanted him to have his eyes examined since diabetics often suffer vision problems.
At first reluctant, he finally agreed to see a diabetic eye specialist. What he was told was “disturbing news.” The doctor wanted to give him emergency surgery because he found bleeding behind the eyes. Glass was leery but he was told the surgery is routine.
After surgery on his left eye, Glass was wearing a patch. When it was removed, he said, “it was like I was behind a waterfall.” Soon, he was completely blind in that eye.
“The doctor didn’t understand what went wrong,” said Glass, and he was sent to Duke Eye Center in Durham. The specialist there told him his eye was “like a war zone.” She wanted to concentrate on his right eye, giving that side a series of injections. But that wasn’t working, Glass said.
From there, they went to laser surgery. He said that after a couple of detached retinas, further surgery “left me with motion sight, just shadows moving.”
When he was told that there was nothing else that could be done, Glass said he was “really lost” and wondered what he would do with his life. “I had severe depression and couldn’t see to do anything.”
Then his sister called. Lisa Powell is a gospel singer who had performed with the legendary Shirley Caesar. She suggested that her brother contact The Blind Brothers of Alabama.
“I had started out in traditional singing in a church group,” he said. But his father was lead singer and “I was never much of a singer out front. As I got older, I tried to sing out front.
“I knew music, I knew singing and there’s a history of singers in my family.”
But to even imagine being with The Blind Boys? That seemed far-fetched.
His sister called and talked to their music director. He called Glass and asked him to meet the group at a recording session in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He could stay a few days and meet the guys.
Glass had to ask himself, “Can I go out in the world by myself?” The answer soon came to him: “God is with me. I’m going to do this.”
He arrived in Alabama and “immediately had a bond with them. I enjoyed meeting them and learning their legacy since 1937. They’ve been doing this all over the world, have five Grammys and have sung with well-known artists.” The group has also performed three times at the White House.
But The Blind Boys had no openings and Glass “thought I would go home and that’s it. Then Benjamin Moore passed away in New Mexico. I got a call and they asked me, ‘Are you ready?’ ”
Glass’ first show with The Blind Boys was at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. There were any number of celebrities there, including Lionel Richie, who Glass met and posed with for a photograph.
“That was the start of me with The Blind Boys,” Glass said. “Since then, we’ve been on tour everywhere.” That includes the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and the 2023 Grammy Awards.
This year, The Blind Boys will perform on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and tour in Hawaii and Australia. In between, they’re scheduled to perform a Paul Simon tribute song, “Love Me Like A Rock,” at the Grammys, where the group has three nominations.
Since Glass joined The Blind Boys, another member died and long-timer, Jimmy Carter, has retired in his 90s. For that reason, Glass has gone from baritone to singing lead on many occasions.
“I do a lot of leading. I’ve gone from the bottom of the barrel to the top,” he chuckled. “They’ve pushed me out front. I go out into the audience to shake hands.”
Often people ask Glass, “Where you from?” When he says Asheboro, North Carolina, they give him a puzzled look. “Ever heard of the Asheboro zoo?” he’ll prompt them. “Oh yeah,” is a typical response.
Glass moved to Asheboro in 2019 with Jamie and their family. They have seven children, mostly grown, and two grandchildren.
He is considering some sort of counseling service for people whose lives have been dramatically torn apart. He wants to offer them “somebody to talk to. There was nobody for me. Without The Blind Boys, I don’t know what I’d have done. The group is all blind but not all from birth. Being able to talk to them, comfort one another, is one of the best things.”
Glass said the group sometimes performs at schools for the blind or similar organizations. Blind people usually show up for their performances. He finds that rewarding.
Being with The Blind Boys has also provided Glass with opportunities to meet many people, some of whom are celebrities. They visited Willie Nelson’s ranch and he took them to his chapel.
Current members of the group along with Glass are J.W. Smith, Louis West, Ricky McKinnie, Joey Williams and Rev. Julius Love, who hasn’t been touring recently.
Glass said he’s been talking to Mayor David Smith about bringing The Blind Boys to Asheboro. That would mean finding a larger venue than the Sunset Theatre, which only holds some 350 or so. It’s believed they would need a site that seats about 1,000.
For more details on The Blind Boys of Alabama or to purchase their music, go to https://www.blindboys.com.