BORN: August 4, 1919, in Choctaw County, Mississippi
DIED: February 3, 2002
FAMILY: Married to Miriam (“Mim”) for 62 years
Children: Billy and Jimmy
Blackwood Brothers Quartet was the first gospel group to sell one million albums.
James Blackwood was a sharecropper’s son who began singing at age 7, after his older brother, Doyle, bought a mandolin. James and his brothers sang for “free-will offerings” in their local community for several years; then, in 1934, James Blackwood formed the legendary Blackwood Brothers Quartet with his brothers Roy and Doyle and his nephew R.W. This group would eventually become the first gospel group to sell a million records.
James’ distinctive, melodic voice and his shy, gentle nature was an intriguing contrast to the ostentatious environment of the music industry at that time. He played to his strengths and remained true to himself, while also pursuing the highest possible level of professionalism and excellence.
In 1951, the Blackwood Brothers signed a recording contract with RCA Victor Records. Then just three years later, in 1954, the Blackwood Brothers won fi rst place on the CBS radio and TV program, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.”
The group was one of the only quartets ever to rival the Statesmen in excellence or popularity, and this friendly rivalry (combined with both groups’ constant pursuit of excellence) eventually propelled both groups to the forefront of the gospel music world. And rather than competing for the same audiences, the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen joined forces and began traveling together as a team. Audiences received a double feature of gospel music’s two premiere quartets, which was truly a win-win arrangement for both the quartets and their audiences. And that was how James Blackwood operated. He was a class act.
James won nine Grammy awards during the course of his life and was nominated a record 31 times during his career. Yet from the heights of success to the lowest point of his life, he modeled integrity.
In 1954, a tragic plane crash ended the lives of R.W. Blackwood and bass singer Bill Lyles and threatened the future of the Blackwood Brothers. After that plane crash, James felt sure he would never be able to sing again. So, drawing on his faith and integrity, he kept his eyes fi xed on singing about hope — not just as a career but a calling. But the hope he had been singing about all those years became more tangible to him than ever before.
For that reason, the Blackwood Brothers kept singing. R.W.’s brother, Cecil, joined the group and J.D. Sumner joined as their bass. They carried on the rich Blackwood legacy for many years. In 1956, the reorganized Blackwood Brothers quartet appeared on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” and won a second time.
In October 1956, the Blackwood Brothers promoted the first-ever National Quartet Convention, and they were instrumental in forming the Gospel Music Association, which was chartered in 1964.
James retired from full-time touring in 1970, and his son, Jimmy, took his place; but James would often make appearances with the quartet. Then, years after his retirement, he formed the Masters V with fellow veteran singers Hovie Lister, Jake Hess, J.D. Sumner and Rosie Rozell.
Bill Gaither recalls the fi rst time he ever met James Blackwood:
Bill goes on to talk about the impact James had on his life:
For his character and for his relentless efforts to further the impact and quality of gospel music, the life of James Blackwood will always be remembered among the most respected pioneers.