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The Blackwood Brothers

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Blackwood Brothers Quartet is an American gospel music singing group.

Musical career

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet formed in 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression when preacher Roy Blackwood (1900-1971), moved his family back home to Mississippi. His brothers Doyle Blackwood (1911-1974), and James Blackwood (1919-2002) (only 15 at the time), already had some experience singing with Vardaman Ray and Gene Catledge. After adding Roy's 13-year-old son R. W. Blackwood (1921-1954), to sing baritone, the brothers began to travel and sing locally. By 1940, they were affiliated with Stamps-Baxter to sell songbooks and were appearing on 50,000-watt radio station KMA (AM) in Shenandoah, Iowa.

The quartet relocated to Memphis, Tennessee in 1950. The move proved to be profitable for the group as they began to appear on television station WMCT in coming years. On 14 June 1954, the Blackwood Brothers lineup of Bill Shaw (tenor), James Blackwood (lead), R. W. Blackwood (baritone), Bill Lyles (bass), and Jackie Marshall (piano), won the Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts competition on national television with their rendition of Have You Talked To The Man Upstairs? The excitement was short lived however, when a fatal plane crash in Clanton, Alabama just 16 days later claimed the lives of R. W. Blackwood and bass singer Bill Lyles, along with a local friend from Clanton, Johnny Ogburn. Bill Shaw, James Blackwood and Jackie Marshall soldiered on. R.W.'s little brother Cecil took over as baritone and J. D. Sumner replaced Lyles at the bass position . In the following years, he and James Blackwood put a number of innovative ideas into play. They were the first to customize a bus for group travel and are the founders of the National Quartet Convention. Sumner also contributed to the group as a songwriter, sometimes writing all the songs for a music album. The Blackwood Brothers were also setting new standards in the studio. Their RCA Victor recordings from this time period are now prized collectors' items. The lineup with Bill Shaw, James, Cecil, and J.D. Sumner (who for many years was unchallenged as the Guinness World Record holder for having the lowest human voice on record) is considered the classic version of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, with Jackie Marshall or Wally Varner on piano. The Blackwood Brothers Quartet came up with the idea to customize the first bus to make travel spacious and comfortable for entertainers thereby inventing the customized "Tour Bus". Elvis Presley saw their bus and went straight out and had one made for him. A replica of the bus can be seen at the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.[1]

Blackwood Brothers' Bus (Replica) at SGMA Museum
The Blackwood Brothers formed a partnership with the Statesmen quartet to tour as a team in the 1950s. This dominance lasted for about a decade until the rise of gospel television shows in the late 1960s began to give competing groups wider exposure. The Stateswood team also started independent record label Skylite Records. At one time, the Skylite roster included the Blackwood Brothers, the Statesmen, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, Jake Hess and The Imperials, The Speer Family, The Florida Boys, The Couriers, and The Oak Ridge Boys, along with the Rebels Quartet, from Tampa, FL.

The Blackwood Brothers were still a major force in the industry at the end of the 1960s. In 1969, they collected nearly 200,000 signatures on a "God And Country" petition in retaliation to the banning of prayer in school. During the post-Sumner era the quartet included bass singers John Hall, London Paris, and Ken Turner, and tenor Pat Hoffmaster. The 1970s lineup with Hoffmaster, Jimmy Blackwood, Cecil Blackwood, Ken Turner and Tommy Fairchild had the Blackwood Brothers' biggest hit with Learning To Lean. This song holds the record in The Gospel Music World as being No. 1 on the National radio charts longer than any other song in Gospel Music History. James Blackwood would win the male vocalist of the year 7 times from the Gospel Music Association. The Blackwood Brothers Quartet has won 8 Grammy Awards, 4 Dove Awards, recorded over 200 albums and sold over 50 million records. The Blackwood Brothers Quartet has been inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame, the GMA (Gospel Music Association) Hall Of Fame, the SGMA (Southern Gospel Music Association) Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Cecil Blackwood died in November 2000 and the group and its name was officially retired shortly before James Blackwood died in 2002. Jimmy Blackwood revived the quartet in 2004 and they are presently on a 75th anniversary tour. The group since 2004 has been composed of Jimmy Blackwood (James Blackwood, Jr.), Brad White, Wayne Little & Randy Byrd (www.blackwoodbrothers.com). They are seen on the newest Bill Gaither Homecoming Video "Rock of Ages."

Other descendents of the original group also continue the 75 year legacy. Ron Blackwood has the Blackwood Quartet (theblackwoodquartet.com composed of John Rulapaugh, Josh Garner and Harold Gilley), R.W. Blackwood Jr. has the Blackwood Singers (theblackwoods.com), Mark Blackwood has the Blackwood Gospel Quartet (blackwoodgospel.com) and Terry Blackwood travels with the Classic Imperials.

The Blackwood Brothers can be heard singing on the radio towards the beginning of the movie "Walk The Line" about Johnny Cash when Johnny (actor-Joaquin Phoenix) was in Memphis. The Blackwood family, Johnny Cash and the Cash family established a wonderful friendship that led to appearing together through the years on both recordings and live performances. The Blackwood Brothers were also among Elvis Presley's favorite musical groups, which led to The Blackwood family and Elvis forming an enduring friendship that would also last a lifetime. The Blackwood family have a long list of wonderful enduring friendships and have performed with many well-known artists over the years.

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The Blackwood Brothers



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