The Blackwood Brothers

For 78 years, the Blackwood Brothers have taken Gospel music to new heights. These unique vocalists have always had a unique way of spreading the good news of the Gospel wherever and whenever they appear. This dynamic quartet of singers were as close to perfection as any quartet that has ever appeared on stage - even more so, on a gospel stage and on a gospel recording.

The Blackwood Brothers humble beginnings started in the midst of the Great Depression in 1934. That’s when Roy Blackwood brought his family back to Mississippi, a move that would become a lightning rod for hits and notoriety.

The Blackwood Brothers
Photo Courtesy of the Blackwood Family

The Blackwood Brothers began with Roy Blackwood, his brothers Doyle, and James. They later added Roy’s son, 13-year-old R.W. The brothers began to travel and sing locally, and by 1940 they had secured a job with Stamps-Baxter to sell songbooks and even appeared on a 50,000 watt radio station KMA (AM) in Shenandoah, Iowa.

Choctaw County, Mississippi. The Birthplace of the Blackwood Brothers

The Blackwood Brothers had the best of times and the worst of times, beginning with the departure of Doyle, who left the group in 1942 and was replaced with Don Smith when the group relocated to Memphis, Tennessee in 1950. The move soon became profitable for The Blackwood Brothers as they began to appear on Memphis’s WMCT-TV. The Blackwood Brothers had many replacements in the group through the years, but the members who provided the most lasting contributions to the group were Bill Shaw, James Blackwood, R.W. Blackwood, Bill Lyles and Jackie Marshall on piano. In 1954, they led the group to national prominence with their performance on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts competition with their rendition of “Have You Talked to The Man Upstairs?”

The Blackwood Brothers’ best times were just beginning when tragedy struck in June of 1954. The brothers were preparing to perform for hundreds of fans in Clanton, Alabama to celebrate the annual Peach Festival. The brothers had already started to greet their fans by shaking hands for an hour, signing autographs and hobnobbing with the crowd before the start of the concert.

Two members of the group, Bill Lyles and R.W. Blackwood, who flew the plane for the group on their concert dates, decided they wanted to check out the landing strip before taking off for the night. Joining them was young Johnny Ogburn, the son of the event’s promoter who just wanted to go along for the ride. The fans of the Blackwood Brothers never imagined that these two songbirds would fail to return for that night’s performance. The Beechcraft airplane they were testing would not co-operate with the weather. The plane failed to land properly and suddenly erupted into flames killing all three on board.

The First Tour Bus

Even though tragedy struck the Blackwood Brothers, they continued to excel and persevere in the gospel arena. The group added two new singers to the quartet, including Cecil Blackwood (brother of R.W.), and J.D. Sumner. Under the management of James Blackwood the quartet was ahead of its time with innovative ideas and firsts. The group founded the National Quartet Convention. They were also the first to customize a tour bus for the group’s travel, an accomplishment that turned the head of Elvis Presley, who went out and had one made for himself.

The Blackwood Brothers in their first tour bus — an idea that they originated.
Photo Courtesy of the Blackwood Family

Having already made a name for themselves by the 1950’s, the Blackwood Brothers began a partnership with the Statesmen Quartet and they began touring as a team. They started an independent record label together called Skylite Records, which boasted a number of elite gospel singers on its roster,

including the Jordanaires, the Kingsmen Quartet, The Florida Boys and The Oak Ridge Boys, to name a few. The Blackwood Brothers also reigned in the 1960’s, and were instrumental in securing 200,000 signatures on a “God and Country” petition in retaliation to the banning of prayer in schools.

Listen Now:

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Swing Down Low

Listen Now:

Give the World a Smile

Listen Now:

It Is Well

Persevere and Excel

The Blackwood Brothers became hit makers in the gospel genre with such hits as “Grand Old Gospel,” “In Gospel Country,” “Lift Up The Name of Jesus,” and “We Come To Worship.” They also became popular and made friendships with some of the biggest entertainers on the country and gospel music scene, including Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash, The Cash Family, and Elvis Presley.

The Blackwood Brothers with Elvis

200 albums recorded, 50 million records sold

With strong religious beliefs, they spread their inspirational message through song, touching thousands and leading them to having one of the biggest hits in the 70’s with “Learning To Lean.” This song holds the record in the gospel music world for staying at number one on the national radio charts longer than any other gospel song in music history.

The Blackwood Brothers have recorded more than 200 albums and have sold more than 50 million records. They have eight Grammy Awards, four Dove Awards and have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame, the Southern Gospel Music Association Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Photo Courtesy of the Blackwood Family

Through It All

The gospel song “Through It All” says it all for the legendary Blackwood Brothers, as they have continued to soar through it all, through the good times, through the bad times, through the changes of personnel, and the changing times of the modern world. Their faith has kept their feet firmly planted on the ground, while they’ve continued to stand tall. Through their ups and downs, the Blackwood Brothers legacy continues to spread the good news of the gospel then and now, through it all.

Be the first to add your voice.

Add Your Voice