Blackwood Brothers (1934-Present)
The Blackwood Brothers came from a large and musically gifted family. At least one photo of the family exists from 1899 that shows the Blackwood String Band. In that group were Emmitt Blackwood (father to Roy, Doyle, and James), and seven other aunts and uncles.
The Blackwood Brothers formed in 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression after preacher Roy Blackwood moved his family back to their home in Mississippi. His brothers Doyle and James (only 15 at the time) already had some experience singing with Vardaman Ray and Gene Catledge. Adding Roy’s 13-year-old son R. W. to sing tenor, the brothers began to travel and sing locally. By 1940, they were affiliated with Stamp-Baxter to sell songbooks and were appearing on 50,000-watt radio station KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa.
The quartet relocated to Memphis, TN in 1950. The move proved to be profitable for the group as they began to appear on television station WMCT. On June 14, 1954, the Blackwood Brothers won 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 crashed claimed the lives of R. W. Blackwood and bass singer Bill Lyles just 16 days later in Clanton, AL. The popularity of the group was so strong at this point that 5000 people attended the joint funeral.
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 an album. The Blackwood Brothers also set new standards in the studio. Their RCA Victor recordings from this time period are now prized collectors’ items.
The Blackwood Brothers formed a partnership with the Statesmen to tour as a team in the 1950s. By the end of the decade, the team was making up to $1500 per performance, an amount unheard of prior to that time. Due to their popularity, the team had a great deal of clout with concert promoters. The two groups were able to dictate who sang where and when. 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 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.
In 1971, the Blackwood Brothers were at the center of a scandal that led to the Dove Awards being nullified for that year. An extraordinary number of Gospel Music Association memberships had been sold by the Blackwood Brothers the previous year, which skewed the final results of the Dove Awards in their favor (and in favor of groups they recommended to their fans). James Blackwood, who was on the GMA board of directors at the time, issued an apology to the industry on behalf of the Blackwood Brothers.
In 1970, the Blackwood Brothers shared a number one song on the Singing News chart with the Stamps Quartet, “The Night Before Easter.” Their biggest success on the chart would come six years later. From August of 1976 to October of 1977, "Learning To Lean" was the number one song on the Singing News chart for an unprecedented 15 months in a row. These were the only two songs that ever reached number one for the group, but it’s safe to say they would have had quite a few more if a national gospel chart had been published during the 1950s and 1960s.
After the departure of James Blackwood, the Blackwood Brothers continued to sing together with various lineups for the rest of the 20th century. When the group disbanded after the death of Cecil Blackwood, James announced the group name was also to be retired. However, his son Jimmy put the name back to use following James’ death. Various members of the Blackwood family have also formed groups that employed the family name. Prior to his death, James Blackwood had a group billed as the James Blackwood Quartet. Other groups have included the Blackwood Singers, the Blackwood Gospel Quartet, and the Ron Blackwood Quartet.
2009 was a big year for the Blackwood Brothers. In August, they announced their next CD would be released on the Daywind Record label. It had been quite a few years since the group had a major label's support behind one of their recordings. Then in December, the group announced their former drummer from the 1970s, Billy Blackwood, would be re-joining the group to sing baritone beside his brother, Jimmy. It had been several decades since two actual Blackwood brothers had been members of the group.
GMA Hall Of Fame (1998)
Due to the large number of projects recorded by the Blackwood Brothers, the discography page has been divided into separate pages by decade. This allows for easier loading and viewing. Please click one of the links below for the decade you wish to view.
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s
Blackwood Brothers Videos