Music ... James Blackwood
BORN: AUGUST 4, 1919; DECEASED: FEBRUARY 3, 2002
The year was 1934
and a fifteen year old James Blackwood joined with his brothers,
Doyle and Roy and his nephew, R. W. to form a group named The
Blackwood Brothers. Certainly, that day in 1934, no one could
have know the impact that the Blackwood Brothers and James Blackwood
would have on a fledgling style of music called southern Gospel
story is a story of courage, dedication, steadfastness and following
the will of God for his life. The Blackwood Brothers certainly
enjoyed a lot of success in southern Gospel music but what many
people are not aware of, is that the group actually disbanded in
1935. Those were difficult days to make a living in America
and Roy and R. W. had to move away from James' hometown of Ackerman,
MS. However, two years later, Roy and R. W. moved back home
and the Blackwood Brothers were back singing again and determined to
make it work. Times were not always easy in the early days,
but they stuck with it and the Lord blessed them greatly!
On May 4, 1939 James
married the love of his life, Miriam (Mim) Grantham. They had
a double wedding ceremony that day as Doyle was also married.
James and Mim would spend the rest of their life together and Mim
became the role model for many "quartet wives" and she stood by
James and realized the calling that God had put on his life.
In 1940, the
Blackwood Brothers made an important and difficult decision.
They moved to Iowa. As James once said, "We may as well have
moved to China." They were a big hit in the area and were
performing nearly every night while doing three radio programs a
day. The radio station estimated their listening audience at
million people! This situation was brought to an end by World
War II. James spent his time during the war in California
working in defense plants.
The war eventually
ended and the Blackwood Brothers were back singing in 1946. It
was 1947 that the Blackwood Brothers began to put together the group
that would become famous in southern Gospel music. James
Blackwood, R. W. Blackwood, Doyle Blackwood and Bill Lyles were
joined by Hilton Griswold and later Jackie Marshall on the piano.
The Blackwood Brothers made their first television appearance in
1952 marked the year
that the Blackwood Brothers finally had that great quartet!
Many people consider it the greatest quartet ever. James was
still singing lead, R. W. was still singing baritone, Bill Lyles was
still singing bass and they were joined by tenor singer, Bill Shaw
and pianist, Jackie Marshall. The quartet moved back to the
Memphis, TN area and they found instant success. It was in
1954 that the Blackwood Brothers won the Arthur Godfrey Talent
Scouts television program.
Without a doubt, the
single most tragic event in the history of southern Gospel music,
was the plane crash that took the lives of Bill Lyles, R. W.
Blackwood and Johnny Ogburn (son of the concert promoter). It
happened just a few days after the Blackwood Brothers appearance on
the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts Show. It happened in
Clanton, AL where a concert was scheduled that evening with the
Blackwood Brothers and The Statesmen. The hours that followed
that tragic event were difficult. James was given a ride back
home to Memphis, TN by The Statesmen. By his own admission,
James said that he was through singing and would never sing again.
The weeks that followed the crash and the funerals were a blur for
James Blackwood. He continued to fill the dates that the
Blackwood Brothers had booked but he remembered very little of what
happened during that time. The Blackwood Brothers had a break
scheduled and that allowed James to figure out his next plan of
To replace R. W.,
James had to look no further than the family. Cecil Blackwood,
another one of the brothers, was asked and accepted the position of
baritone. The person that James chose to be the next bass
singer was a legend in the making himself. JD Sumner joined
the Blackwood Brothers as their new bass singer and James and JD
became very good friends. Together, James and JD built the
first touring bus and began the National Quartet Convention.
The new quartet
picked up where the old one left off. James had some tough
days when the new group first began singing but the Lord was
faithful and saw him through. The personnel changed over the
years and at one time included James' son, Jimmy.
James was involved a
little later in life with the Master Five. This group
consisted of James Blackwood, Hovie Lister, Jake Hess, JD Sumner and
Rosie Rozell. They were very popular and James traveled with
them for eight years. Of course, James became a regular and a
favorite on the Gaither Homecoming Videos right up until his recent
I don't know who
first called James Blackwood "Mr. Gospel Music" but the name stuck
with him. I never met James Blackwood but every time I saw him
perform on a Gaither Video, he was always smiling and happy.
He seemed to have a real joy for singing Gospel Music and it was
very apparent that he knew the one that he sang about. James
was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall Of Fame and the
Southern Gospel Music Association Hall Of Fame and he won countless
awards and honors for his contributions to the southern Gospel
When I think of
James, I think of two songs that he sang. The first song is
"How About Your Heart." I honestly don't remember the first
time I heard that song but I always took to that song as a child.
The second song I remember James singing is "Sheltered In The Arms
Of God." My first recollection of that song was a Blackwood
Brothers Record by that same title. It was recorded in 1971
when I was only six years. For some reason, that song was a
favorite of mine and has remained a favorite of mine to this day.
What a wonderful
legacy the life of James Blackwood was. James was faithful to
God, showed great courage through God to go on after the plane crash
and was steadfast in his beliefs. If there was ever a gospel
singer for the singers of today to model their life after, it was
"Mr. Gospel Music," James Blackwood. We will miss James but we
can find so much happiness and comfort in knowing that James is now
"Sheltered In The Arms" of that great God he sang about for over 60
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