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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 (whom is in The Guinness Book of World Records as 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 is a famous American gospel music singing group. They formed in 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression when preacher Roy Blackwood moved his family back home to 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. Blackwood 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 in Shenandoah, Iowa.
The quartet relocated to Memphis, TN in 1950. The move would proved to be profitable for the group as they began to appear on television station WMCT in coming years. On June 14, 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.
The Blackwood Brothers formed a partnership with the Statesmen quartet 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 previously. 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. They would continue to win Grammy awards (8 in all) as recent as 1982. They earned yet another nomination in 2004. James Blackwood would win the male vocalist of the year 7 times from the Gospel Music Association.
Popular Blackwood Brothers lineups during the post-Sumner era 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.
After the departure of James Blackwood, the Blackwood Brothers continued to sing together with various lineups for the rest of the 20th century. The family patriarch, James Blackwood, passed away in 2002. However, his son Jimmy eventually put the name back to use following James’ death. Jimmy had sung with the Blackwood Brothers Quartet from 1969 to 1986. The present Blackwood Brothers Quartet consists of of Jimmy Blackwood, Brad White, Wayne Little and Randy Byrd. (www.blackwoodbrothers.com) Various members of the Blackwood family have also had groups that employed the banner of the family name. James Blackwood also had a group late in his life that was billed as the James Blackwood Quartet. Other descendents of the original group also have groups including Ron Blackwood and R. W. Blackwood, Jr. (www.theblackwoods.com) who have The Blackwood Quartet and The Blackwood Singers. Terry Blackwood does solo engagements and dates with The Imperials. (www.terryblackwood.com & www.theimperials.us) Mark Blackwood has the Blackwood Gospel Quartet. (www.blackwoodgospel.com)
The Blackwood Brothers Quartet is still alive and well. The Blackwood family has won 8 Grammy Awards, 27 Dove Awards, 5 American Music Awards, recorded over 200 albums and sold over 50 million records. The Blackwood family has been inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame "http://www.grammy.com/Recording_Academy/Awards/Hall_Of_Fame/ (Listed under F: FAVORITE GOSPEL SONGS AND SPIRITUALS, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet), the GMA (Gospel Music Association) Gospel Music Hall Of Fame http://www.gmahalloffame.org/inductee_bio.cfm?ID=366", the SGMA Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame "http://www.sgma.org, and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame "http://www.rockabillyhall.com/BRAB.html.
The Blackwood Brothers Quartet is heard singing on the radio towards the beginning of the new 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 Quartet≥ and The Blackwood Singers≥ 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. The Blackwood Quartet≥ features the only two living Blackwood brothers singing together (Ron Blackwood and R. W. Blackwood, Jr.). Ron Blackwood and R. W. Blackwood, Jr. are the sons of the late RW Blackwood Sr. whom carry on the legacy of the original 1930's Blackwood Brothers Quartet. The Blackwoods≥ feature The Blackwood Quartet≥ and The Blackwood Singers≥ and can be seen performing 5 days a week at The Blackbear Jamboree Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. "http://www.blackbearjamboree.com/show.html" The Blackwoods Website "http://www.theblackwoods.com/". 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. "http://www.dollywood.com/rides-attractions/ride-detail.aspx?AttractionID=185"
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