When I started gathering notes for this story I contacted about 30 friends who I have known for a long time. I asked them, do you remember the Blackwood Brothers? Wow, they all started talking about growing up with the Blackwoods. I knew this was going to be fun.
Tom Lindsey of Tippah County Mississippi told me his dad would wake him up early and they would milk cows listening to the Blackwoods. Several other friends told me they listened on WMPS and their parents had the records. The Blackwood was unique in the fact that they were the first gospel group to win the Arthur Godfrey National Talent Scouts contest on National TV. They were the first to travel by their own airplane and the first to outfit and ride to concerts in a big highway designed bus driven by Bundy Bruister.
Two weeks after their National TV introduction, their twin-engine Beechcraft crashed in Cullman, Alabama killing two of their members. James Blackwood wasn’t sure he would ever sing again. It was a very emotional and traumatizing time for the group.
Most of this story will take place between 1955 and 1965. The group was first based out of the First Assembly of God Church located at 1054 E McLemore at Greenwood Street. As their congregation expanded they moved to 255 North Highland. In 1955 the members of the group were James W. Blackwood, Lead Singer, J.D. Sumner, Bass, Bill Shaw, Tenor, and Cecil Blackwood, Baritone. Jackie Marshal was their first piano player and Wally Varner was their second piano player.
There were several members of the family, including Roy E. Blackwood and Doyle J. Blackwood, worked behind the scenes, managing the record store (located at 3933 Summer Ave.) and the family business.
The Blackwood Members:
Cecil Blackwood, Baritone, born October 28, 1934/died Nov 13, 2000, lived at 4151 Barfield Ave.
James W, the lead singer and always very energetic spokesman for the group, lived at 4411 Sequoia Ave.
Edward Lamar “ Bill “ Shaw the tenor ( is still alive today ) lived at 4035 Allison Ave.
Doyle J. Blackwood, operated the music store, lived at 901 Martha Cove.
J.D. Sumner, Bass, lived at 386 N Highland Street.
Wally Varner, the piano player, lived at 5311 Park Ave at Estate.
Roy E lived at 1149 Wrenwood Street.
The Blackwood family was Memphis. They won more awards than any other Southern Gospel group, and because of the connection to Elvis, sung at his mother’s funeral August 14, 1958. The Blackwood family tradition of loving the Lord and being able to convey their message through music continues on today through the sons of Cecil, James, and Bill, through Cecil Mark Blackwood Jr, and Jimmy and Terry, who were James’ sons, and Bob Shaw son of Bill Shaw.
Special thanks to Cecil Mark Blackwood who helped me with this article.