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James Blackwood
"Mr. Gospel Music Dies"
by Dr. Paul Davis,
Author of The Authorized Biography
of James Blackwood entitled
"The Legacy Of The Blackwood Brothers"

          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. 

          James Blackwood 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. 


          Throughout the 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 
his renowned group received twenty-eight consecutive Grammy Award nominations, and won nine Grammy Awards. They had also been awarded seven Dove Awards, many Singing News Fan Awards and The Marvin Norcross Award. 

          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!' 

          As unchallenged 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 
associated priorities. Country boy, James was certainly not born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth but he wisely and duly 'acknowledged' his loving Creator in the days of his youth. His surrender in early years to divine-leading gave him long life and a great, satisfying sense of fulfillment. 

          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 
World War I  hostilities, and his struggling parents were in their mid-forties. Money was scarce, and the war-weary world was fast heading for a severe economic depression. The humble family which had to be fed 
and housed was large, which made life tough! Nevertheless, God blessed James' faithful parents with long life. Father Blackwood died in 1951 and Mother Blackwood died in 1963. 


          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 on the 
prison's loading dock. The prison guard even allowed me to visit with them on their bus, though he had to accompany me!' 

          Highly worthy 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 
the Twentieth Century even in the Christian music department of show business. Their long lasting marriage-bond gave laudable testimony to their high fidelity, consistency of quality character, and sheer determination to see things through! 

          Always patiently 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 
gave her four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren to thoroughly spoil from time to time, as all good matriarchs do! 


          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 
amazingly retaining the right for the BB's to continue their custom record label. 

          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 
music industry and touring circuits that came in the subsequent fifty years. For that, the Blackwoods, and James in particular, should be duly credited! 

          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! 

          Itchingly restless, 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, Gospel-quartet contemporaries 
such as Hovie Lister, J.D. Sumner, Rosie Rozell, and Jake Hess, all in the eventide of their great careers. 

          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 
Communication that he was awarded in 1985. 

          He enterprisingly 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. 
These were sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council and entitled 'Mississippi's Musical Heritage.' It was a role that James enjoyed and after all, no one knew R.W. better than James himself! 

          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 Blackwood, Ken Turner, Larry Ford, Ray Shelton and Brad White (pianist). Deservedly riding high on the heritage of the Blackwoods, the James Blackwood Quartet carried the banner onward! In mid-1999, his 
sixty-sixth year in Gospel music, he was still performing frequently in live concerts and church services nation-wide and occasionally abroad. 


          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 
blessing to countless people all over the world. Still enthusiastic, Miriam faithfully considered that James' voice was the most beautiful she had ever heard! 

          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 
had been heard in heaven'.My dear mother went to be with the Lord in 1963 at the age of eighty-three. That elderly, little lady in the aisle reminded me of her, which makes the memory sweet and special.' 

          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 
years. I believe that the message in a Gospel song is as eternal as that of the preached Word and the Bible itself. If it is presented sincerely and performed by dedicated singers, it will be an inspiration to all who listen!' 

The Authorized Biography of James Blackwood
entitled 'The Legacy of the Blackwood Brothers"
by Dr. Paul Davis is published in the
USA (phone 864-234-2434) and the UK (028-90450010)
by Ambassador Publications.
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