Time to say goodbye to gospel singer James Blackwood of the legendary Blackwood Brothers quartet. Born 4th August 1919 in Choctaw County, Mississippi to a large family that lived in impoverished circumstances, a deeply religious family who attended church regularly.


1934 would see James, along with his brothers Roy and Doyle, forming the first Blackwood Brothers quartet. Blackwood’s rich baritone voice became a regular feature at various churches and country fairs performing traditional material and up-tempo spirituals including ‘Give The World A Smile’ which became their theme tune. Disbanding during the war years, they reformed in the latter half of the forties, finding themselves more popular than ever, which encouraged them to move to Memphis, Tennessee in 1950. Soon they had a daily radio show on WMPS and signed with RCA the following year.


R W, James, Roy, Doyle


1954 would see the second incarnation of the outfit when Roy and Doyle left to open a gospel music record shop. The new line up won the talent contest on a nationwide TV show – the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts – performing ‘Have You Talked To The Man Upstairs’. They now had the world at their feet. Sadly though, tragedy would soon strike when their hired private plane, whilst practising landing on a small landing strip, crashed and burst into flames. James could only watch in horror as the new members, including another brother and Bill Lyles, were engulfed by the inferno. Apparently the funeral would be the largest ever seen in Memphis until that of Elvis Presley many years later.


The group continued, with new members including J D Sumner, to produce around 200 albums and picked up nine Grammy awards. James was forced to retire for a while because of ill health in 1970 but, once his health improved, he was back treading the boards although not performing on such a regular basis. James was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Blackwood Brothers quartet was inducted complete in 1996.


Hovie Lister, Jake Hess, James, J D Sumner,

Rosie Rozell


Every month in the early fifties the group would play regular concerts at the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. It was there that a lifelong friendship with Elvis Presley began. The young hillbilly cat would either attend the concerts if he had enough money to buy a ticket or simply hang around the stage door. It is alleged he once asked to join the group. Within a couple of years Elvis would sign with Sun Records and the rest is history as they say. The group sang ‘Rock Of Ages’ and ‘Precious Memories’ at Elvis’ mother Gladys’ funeral in 1958. James Blackwood performed ‘How Great Thou Art’, Presley’s favourite song, at his funeral in 1977.


Keith Woods