James Blackwood passed away at 11:50 a.m. on Sunday 3 February in his home-town of Memphis, Tennessee. James Blackwood was one of the original Blackwood Brothers singing group formed in 1934. After his nephew, Cecil Blackwood's death last year, James retired the name Blackwood Brothers. James was 82 years old and leaves behind his lovely wife, Miriam (Mim) and his two sons, Jimmy and Billy.
James was the only surviving member of the original 1934 Blackwood Brothers Quartet. Few would dispute that he thoroughly deserved the unique, patriarchal role he fulfilled in Christian music as Mister Gospel Music.
semi-retired in 1971 but still retained a keen interest and dedication
to the cause of Gospel music, particularly with reference to matters that
involved the Blackwood name. Jimmy, his son, replaced James in 1971 as
the Quartet's lead singer for sixteen years. James guested with the group
as a featured soloist. Then in 1981 he went full-time with the Master V.
28 GRAMMY NOMINATIONS
exciting second half of the Twentieth Century, the name of the Blackwood
Brothers had been synonymous with Southern Gospel music. During his long-lasting,
illustrious career since 1934, James and
Tributes about his music and lifestyle from fellow performers were plentiful as the comments of the outstanding tenor, Larry Ford illustrated in 1999. 'James has always been a role model for me since I was five years of age and learned my first songs from the Blackwood Brothers. I thank God for allowing me to be a small part of James' music and life!'
patriarchal head of the Blackwood dynasty, James Blackwood had an unprecedented
reputation. Rather than turn his head, he remained highly focused with
reference to spiritual matters and their
In rural poverty,
Mother Blackwood gave him birth on a humble, sharecropper farm near the
Choctaw County seat of Ackerman, Mississippi on the fourth day of August
1919. It was the year after the cessation of
James was the fourth child and the third of three boys. By the time baby James was born, his sister Lena was sixteen, Roy, the oldest, was nearyl nineteen, and baby Doyle was already eight years old!
Clearly, the family age span was considerable. Indeed, brother Roy's son named R.W., was to become more of a brother than a nephew to James. R.W. was a whole two years younger than James. They were to be great buddies at play and later close 'co-workers together with Christ' as long as life was to last.
James was converted to Christ at the tender age of seven in the Mount Olive Church in rural Mississippi. Later, he was baptized by immersion firstly in his home state, and much later still in 1977, as an act of rededication, in the Holy Land's Jordan River.
Looking back on James, as a performer, he is widely recognized as a quality song-stylist and an excellent, enthusiastic lead singer of his day. In live-concert performance, his expressive face typically reflected the whole gamut of emotions required from the front persons of this particular genre of Gospel music. Seriousness, fun, excitement and enthusiasm were all clearly exhibited in his face and deeply felt in his sincere personality.
Since 1934 to
the dawn of the 21st Century, through all the changing scenes of quartet
life, his smiling face and commanding presence have been ever enduring
constants. The wide-flung, Blackwood dynasty, over which he presided, had
for several generations provided a rich gold mine of talented relatives
and descendants. They served the Southern Gospel music cause (and in some
cases the secular music industry) with great skill and dedication. However,
best of all, many served the cause of Christ's Kingdom honestly, earnestly
and sacrificially. Great was the harvest of their labours.
Big in personality and high in integrity as he was, conversely James was a small, slightly built gentleman. When he spoke or sang, he had a distinctive, melodic ring and accent in his crystal-clear voice. Vocally, his special, unique quality of enunciation and tone was immediately recognizable in virtually all of the Blackwood Brothers' multiple recordings.
Even in advancing years, the sophisticated James conducted himself with great class and considerable dignity. Tenor, Larry Ford described this as tantamount to royalty! Fashionably and smartly-dressed, dignified and well-spoken, his genuine class could easily be mistaken for aloofness or ego. But not so!
Truly, he had earned his worthy reputation as a Southern Christian Gentleman of integrity and faith.
Without hesitation or solicitation, many of his associates, some close and some not so close, happily testified that James sacrificially took quality-time and gave dedicated-attention to ordinary people in all walks of life.
In his post-prison
autobiography, the ex-TV-host evangelist, Jim Baker speaks highly of James
as he was one of the very few to visit him in prison. Bakker's friends
and associates deserted him in multiple numbers when he dramatically fell
from the pinnacle of his multi-million-dollar 'Heritage USA' Retreat Centre,
losing his wife, fortune, dignity, sanity, faith and freedom. Imprisoned
initially in 1989 for an incredibly ridiculous forty-five years, Bakker
hit rock bottom. Amid his abject despair, loneliness and humiliation, most
so-called Christian friends treated him shamefully. But not James Blackwood,
as Bakker exclaimed! 'What a wonderful day it was when James Blackwood
came to the Jesup Prison and brought his Quartet to perform a Gospel concert
of note was James' long surviving marriage (since the fourth of May 1939)
to Miriam Grantham (of Weathersby, Mississippi). Such longevity in marriage
was and is sadly, rare in the second half of
supportive, the soft-spoken Miriam was content to stay home, keeping the
home-fire burning, doing the administration of the office affairs, and
last but not least, raising two sons. These two sons
Despite the ups and downs of life that all are subject to, James and his dear wife were successful survivors; role-models to many. It was evident that in matters of family values, Miriam and James' marriage partnership had successfully raised two sons of whom they could be proud. Jimmy and Billy, like their devoted parents, were men of high integrity and faith. They displayed also no mean talent when it came to musical expression, and an on-going passion for the Gospel of Christ! Jimmy became a notable singing preacher throughout the USA, and Billy was to serve fruitfully on the pastoral staff of the Hendersonville Chapel in Nashville.
James was always
an astute business man. This was well illustrated when James kept a cool
head in 1951 in lofty discussions with the legendary Steve Sholes. The
RCA Victor king-pin desperately wanted to sign up the BB's and James was
quietly keen too! Not overwhelmed, James did more than secure a prestigious
recording contract. He and Sholes also signed to a distributor deal for
the entire range of RCA Gospel product while
The wide exposure
in secular quarters given to Christian music as a whole, because of James
Blackwood's astute deal, should not be under-emphasized. It laid the foundation
for the thriving Christian
After half a century of constant personal appearances, the rigors of being on the road, and all that it entailed, started to become burdensome. James reluctantly conceded that he should slow-up in 1971, formally retiring from the Blackwood Brothers Quartet in 1981...But not from singing and not for long!
he joyfully returned to singing the unchanging Gospel with the prestigious
group he started called the Masters V. It was composed of well-known, long-serving,
In Memphis, his
comfortable, living room's trophy case overflows with industry, church
and fan awards of every shape and size. Among them is the Memphis State
University Award of Excellence in Arts and
turned his hand to acting of a sort in 1992. After careful selection, he
was invited to portray the late R.W. Blackwood several times on stage in
a series of Mississippi Chautaugua programs.
Until his death,
he still lived in Memphis with his dear Miriam and continued an active
concert schedule both as a soloist and as the featured artist of the James
Blackwood Quartet. The line-up in 1999 was
James and Miriam
Blackwood were blessed with a close clan of loving family and dear friends.
She exclaimed that she was genuinely grateful that James had used his unique,
God-given talent to be a heavenly
Asked how she coped with him being away from home so often during their marriage, she delighted to borrow the answer of Mrs. Billy (Ruth) Graham about her husband, Billy. Miriam declared that she would rather be with James part of the time than with anyone else all the time!
Asked in the eventide of his life what was the highlight of his lengthy career, James reply was moving and surprising in the light of his history. 'There have been several high spots like winning the national Arthur Godfrey TV talent show and singing to thousands for Dr. Billy Graham. If I had to pick the best it would be one night in Greenville, South Carolina before six thousand folk. I was singing 'I Will Meet You In The Morning' and decided to leave the platform and shake hands with people in the audience as far as my microphone chord would allow. People started rising and coming down to meet me from high up in the auditorium.
I will meet you in the morning, Just outside the Eastern Gate, Then be ready , faithful pilgrim, Lest for you it be too late! Full the joy of that great morning, With the saints who for us wait, There a blessed, happy morning, Just inside the Eastern Gate!
I will meet you in the morning, I will meet you in the morning, Just inside the Eastern Gate over there! I will meet you in the morning, I will meet you in the morning, I will meet you in the morning over there!
Rev I. G. Martin / Trad. arranged by Wes Davis / © New Music Enterprises 1999
Then I saw a
little, gray-haired lady on crutches advancing down the aisle, tears flooding
her face. As she came up close, she embraced me with a loving hug. Then
she spoke emotionally!'James, I will......I will meet you in the morning!'...It
was Ken Turner's dear mother!...I still choke up when I picture that
scene. She reminded me of my little, old mother, four feet nine inches
tall, who barely came up to my shoulder.She always remained faithful in
prayer, a prayer warrior to the end. She called it 'praying through' meaning
'until she felt her prayer
The specific choice made by James Blackwood of the highlight of his illustrious, music career silently speaks volumes. It remains highly reflective of where his heart was anchored! In reality, James' career was a ministry all the time, as he explained! 'It has been said that music is the language of the angels. If this is true, surely it must be doubly true of sacred songs and Gospel music! Christian music tells of heaven, the life hereafter and the reunion with loved ones. It gives testimony of the peace and happiness found in serving God in this life.
This is the music
that the Blackwood Brothers have been dedicated to. In music, as in everything
else, fads come and go. This happens even in Gospel Music! But our style
has not changed appreciably during the