The Blackwood Brothers sang gospel for over 60 years, and from the 1950s to the '70s, they were one of the most popular gospel groups in the U.S. One of their biggest fans was a young Elvis Presley, who auditioned — and was turned down — for the group in 1953. The quartet was formed in 1934 by brothers Roy (b. December 24, 1900, Fentress, MS; d. March 21, 1971), Doyle (b. August 22, 1911, Ackerman, MS), and James Blackwood (b. August 4, 1919, Ackerman, MS; d. February 3, 2002, Memphis, TN), along with Roy's 13-year-old son R.W. Blackwood (b. October 23, 1921, Ackerman, MS; d. June 30, 1954, Clanton, AL). The Blackwoods sang at churches around their base of Ackerman, MS, during the mid-'30s. By 1937, however, they began working a radio show in Kosciusko, MS. The quartet moved to WJDX in Jackson later that year, singing pop and country in addition to gospel. After two years in Jackson, they were popular enough to move to KWKH in Shreveport, LA, a regional superstation that broadcast over much of the South.
While working in Shreveport, the Blackwood Brothers were signed by V.O. Stamps, the largest Southern gospel publisher of the 1930s. The group worked for Stamps during the late '30s and early '40s, but broke up during World War II. When they re-formed in 1946 — without the Stamps affiliation — Doyle Blackwood had been replaced by Don Smith. The Blackwoods began their own record company, and became so popular that Doyle soon returned to start another group, the Blackwood Gospel Quartet.
By 1950, Roy had retired and was replaced by Bill Lyles. The Blackwoods then moved to Memphis and signed a contract with RCA Victor. They began recording in 1952, and the increased exposure led to national recognition and a spot on Arthur Godfrey's TV show in 1954. Less than a month later, however, R.W. Blackwood and Bill Lyles were killed in a plane crash. The Blackwoods immediately disbanded and vowed to never perform again. Fortunately, they returned several years later, gradually adding J.D. Sumner (as a replacement for Lyles) plus Roy's son Cecil Blackwood (b. October 28, 1934, Ackerman, MS; d. November 13, 2000) and James' son Jimmy Blackwood (b. July 31, 1943, San Diego).
The Blackwoods entered the LP era during the mid-'50s and eventually recorded many albums for RCA and Skylite throughout the 1950s and '60s. They won the first of their eight Grammy Awards for Best Gospel Performance in 1966, and James Blackwood won seven Dove Awards for Male Vocalist of the Year during the '70s. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1974 and was known as "Mr. Gospel Singer of America" for years thereafter. ~ John Bush