Bishop Billy Bowers, third from the left, performed with the Blind Boys of Alabama at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame ceremonies in Montgomery in 2010.(Photo: Provided to The Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser)
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (USA TODAY) -- Bishop Billy Bowers, a longtime vocalist with the Blind Boys of Alabama, died of heart failure in Montgomery on July 2 and was memorialized Friday .
Bowers died at the age of 71 and was memorialized at Montgomery's Weeping Willow Missionary Baptist Church with little of the publicity one might expect a Grammy-winning musician of his stature to receive.
Bowers performed with the Blind Boys of Alabama from 1968 until the early '80s and then rejoined them from 2005 until he had to quit touring in 2011 because of health reasons.
Bowers and the band had fans worldwide, but were particularly beloved in Alabama.
Mary Francis Bruce, who lives in Matthews, Ala., saw them perform in 2010 in Montgomery when they were inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame. She said while the group will continue to perform, the loss of someone like Bowers is a loss to the state. Bruce said the group has been a "a treasure Alabama can take real pride in," and that you could tell just by watching them "they were just real sweet folks."
Bowers attended the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind in Talladega, where the original Blind Boys of Alabama group met and formed in the 1930s. Among his recordings with the group were the Grammy-winning "Down In New Orleans," and their most recent studio album "Take The High Road."
Besides his career with the Gospel Hall of Fame group, Bowers had been an evangelist and radio announcer.
"I lost a good friend. Billy will always be remembered," said Jimmy Carter, the Blind Boys' remaining original founding member.
"When you think about singing, what is from the heart reaches the heart," said Ricky McKinnie, another longtime member. "When Billy Bowers sang, you could feel it all straight to your soul."
Bowers is survived by his sister Eva Miller, daughter Connie Hawse and son Billy Bowers Jr., as well as his friend and caregiver Margia Smith.
The family asks that donations to assist with burial expenses be sent to Eric McKinnie, c/o Blind Boys of Alabama, 192 Warren St. SE, Atlanta, GA 30317.