PIGEON FORGE, TENN. (November 2013) – The Blackwood Brothers were one of 13 recent inductees into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame at the Gibson Showcase Lounge in Memphis.
R. W. and Donna Blackwood of the “Blackwoods Morning Variety Show” at the Smoky Mountain Opry in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., were on hand to receive this award.
“It was awesome,” R. W. Blackwood said. “The award was given posthumously honoring the original group, and it went on to honor the Blackwoods of today. I am from Memphis, and there is nothing like going home to be inducted,” he said.
“The music at the induction ceremony was incredible. They would tell about the person or people who were getting inducted and then someone would sing. Jimmy Blackwood, Billy Blackwood, Mark Blackwood and I were all present at the ceremony. Kay and Barbara Blackwood were also present. These are all children of the original group. We are thrilled to be acknowledged into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame for the accomplishments of our family group over the past 79 years,” Blackwood said.
“This award honors Memphis music icons, and it has inducted many of the greatest musicians of all time. Everyone who received the award is a groundbreaking pioneer in music, a hit maker, a chart topper or a Grammy winner, but they are not all singers. Some people who were inducted were producers and songwriters. We were nominated by the board of directors as one of the legends of Memphis music, and they voted on it, and that is how we were chosen,” Blackwood said.
After a video presentation at the induction ceremony honoring the history and legacy of the group, Kevin Kane, executive director of Memphis Tourism, inducted the quartet.
Others inducted were Johnny Cash, blues icon Albert King, gospel composer and publisher Rev. W. Herbert Brewster, soul queen Carla Thomas, recording pioneers the Memphis Jug Band, producer/musician Roland James, Stax Stalwart David Porter, jazz/pop singer Kay Starr, producer/impresario Sid Selvedge, jazz pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., and longtime soul-funk group The Bar-Kays.
The Hall of Fame kicked off its first induction ceremony in 2012, inducting the most famous resident from Memphis, Elvis Presley.
Through the years, R. W. and Donna Blackwood and members of the Blackwood family have recorded over 200 albums. They have won eight Grammy awards (including one with Barbara Mandrell and three with Porter Wagner), 27 Dove Awards, five All-American Music Awards, and have sold more than 60 million records.
The Blackwoods have been seen on every major television and radio network. They have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, The Gospel Music Association (GMA) Hall of Fame, the Southern Gospel Music Association (SGMA) Museum and Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
According to R. W. Blackwood Jr., the late Elvis Presley often told his friends and audiences that he admired the harmony of the Blackwoods above all other singing groups.
“Elvis attended my father’s funeral with his girlfriend, Dixie Locke,” Blackwood said. “She later said he cried like a baby.”
The current members of The Blackwood Morning Variety Show include R. W. Blackwood, Donna Blackwood, Jonathan Lee Kunkle, Craig Hodges, Brad Smith and Karen Williams Tillery (who has performed in over 40 Bill Gaither videos and for 10 years on Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN).
The current show also features the comedy/ventriloquism of Bob and Marty Hamill. The Hamills were presented with the highest honor a ventriloquist can receive at the 34th International VentHaven Ventriloquist Convention: The W. S. Berger Distinguished Service Award. (W.S. Berger was president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists and founder of the VentHaven Museum.)
The Blackwood family began playing gospel music in 1899, when Emmitt Blackwood, R. W.’s great-grandfather, and his siblings began playing in a string band. The Blackwood Brothers Quartet began in 1934 and will celebrate its 80th anniversary in 2014. The original group included Roy Blackwood, his brothers, Doyle and James, and Roy’s son, R. W. Blackwood Sr., who was 13 at the time.
The Blackwood Brothers have had many replacements over the years, but the Blackwood Brothers who were the most well known and are remembered today are singers Bill Shaw (tenor), James Blackwood (lead), R.W. Blackwood Sr. (baritone) and Bill Lyles (bass). The group also included Jackie Marshall on piano. On June 14, 1954, these members of The Blackwood Brothers won Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts competition on national television with their rendition of the song, “Have You Talked to The Man Upstairs?”
R. W. Blackwood Jr. said, “The Arthur Godfrey Show was like American Idol today.”
On June 30, 1954, R. W. Blackwood Sr., Bill Lyles and Johnny Ogburn (a friend of the Blackwood Brothers) were all killed in a private plane crash in Clanton, Ala. R. W. Blackwood Jr. was 11 at the time.
“After the plane crash, the group reorganized with J.D. Sumner of the Stamps Quartet, who replaced Bill Lyles, and Cecil Blackwood, who took over as baritone,” R. W. Blackwood said.
“On Aug. 30 in Clanton, Ala., that same year, we did a memorial concert, and that was the first night that J.D. Sumner sang with The Blackwood Brothers. I performed all the songs my Dad was supposed to do the night of the plane crash two months earlier at a concert in Clanton. From that point on I would fly to meet the group wherever they were because that is what the promoters wanted me to do. I toured with Elvis when I was 12 years old. We had twin buses. Up until I was 14 years old, I spent every summer with The Blackwood Brothers.”
(The group was the first to make travel spacious and comfortable for entertainers, thereby inventing what is known today as the “tour bus.” Presley had his bus made identical to the Blackwoods’.)
In 1956, Cecil Blackwood, James Blackwood and J.D. Sumner organized the first National Quartet Convention that still exists today and will be held in Pigeon Forge next year.
By the end of the 1960s, R. W. Blackwood Jr., had performed with the Junior Blackwood Brothers, The Blackwood Boys, The Blackwood Brothers, The Blackwood Singers, and had performed as a soloist and in duos. He left the Blackwood Brothers in 2000 when his Uncle Cecil Blackwood died. Blackwood and his wife, Donna, came to Pigeon Forge in January 2000.
Since 2003, Blackwood and his wife, Donna, have been performing with The Fee/Hedrick Family Entertainment Group in Pigeon Forge and have entertained hundreds of thousands of fans with their fast-paced gospel show. The group recently moved to The Smoky Mountain Opry Theater and their all-new Christmas show has performances every morning Tuesday through Sunday at 10 a.m. (The theater is dark on Monday). Adult tickets are $29.95, plus tax. Children 11 and under are $9.95, plus tax. Tickets are available by calling (865) 428-SHOW (7469). Groups of 20 or more qualify for group rates, available by calling 1-866-492-6972.
The Smoky Mountain Opry Theater is located at 2046 Parkway in Pigeon Forge. For more information about the show, visit www.Blackwwodshow.com/tickets.html .
The Fee/Hedrick Family Entertainment Group is currently running a special combination show deal that offers customers a chance to buy a ticket to the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show for $49.95 plus tax and then for just $15 plus tax, they can purchase a ticket to The Comedy Barn®, the Smoky Mountain Opry or the Blackwoods Morning Variety Show as long as the tickets are all purchased at the same time.
The show is part of the Fee/Hedrick Family Entertainment Group that includes “The Comedy Barn®;” “The Smoky Mountain Opry;” “The Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show;” Tony Roma’s Ribs, Steaks, and Seafood; Happy Days Diner; Chef’s Catering and www.SeePigeonForge.com.
Deborah Fee Newsom
(865)774-8877 or (865) 414-6887 (cell)