By Lethbridge Herald on March 31, 2017.
Legendary group was a Presley favourite
Ronald Franklin ‘Ron’ Blackwood remembers a young Elvis Presley coming to his home and wanting to sing with the family’s gospel quartet.
The Blackwood Brothers Quartet, formed in 1934 by a Mississippi preacher named Roy Blackwood, two siblings and a son, were Presley’s favourite gospel group. And they were also widely acclaimed in the U.S. where the cotton-picking sharecroppers became legends in their genre.
Ron Blackwood, who has managed or been a booking agent for stars such as Tanya Tucker, Faron Young, Hank Williams Jr., Wynonna Judd, Louise Mandrell, J.D. Sumner and Larry Gatlin, among others, is the son of R.W. Blackwood who was recruited by his father at the age of 13 to perform in the pioneering gospel group which over its career has recorded more than 200 albums — selling 50 million in the process — and earned nine Grammy Awards.
Now the patriarch of the Blackwood family, Ron has fond memories of Elvis who was told he would make $100 a week in the group which had to discourage the young rock ’n roller from changing musical direction.
The Blackwood Brothers played at the funeral of Elvis’ mother and decades later at Elvis’ own. The singers, Blackwood proudly recalled in a telephone interview this week, was the first gospel group inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
“But you can’t buy a cup of coffee with it,” he laughed.
The Blackwoods also had a close relationship with Johnny Cash, performing with him on occasions. The group’s song “I Was There When It Happened” can be heard in the Cash biopic “Walk the Line.”
The group also performed on Cash’s television show in 1971, recalled Blackwood who has performed with Willie Nelson and at Farm Aid. In the early days of television, Blackwood said, they performed on the Arthur Godfrey show with the McGuire Sisters.
While Ron won’t be singing with the Blackwood Quartet when it performs April 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Yates Centre, he will be on stage in spirit. Tickets for the show are $47.50 plus GST at the Ticket Centre, 403-329-7328. Appearing with the quartet will be Elvis impersonator Roger Anderson who Blackwood calls “really phenomenal.”
In 2010, Ron who spent years recording and touring with the group, turned the reins of the quartet over to his cousin Mark Blackwood who joined in 1986 and sang lead for years with his dad Cecil, who died in 2000.
In 2012, Mark formed the group Lethbridge audiences will see in Lethbridge.
“This is going to be a fun show. It’s not like going to a morgue,” said the affable Blackwood, who runs Blackwood Artist Agency.
“Elvis’ favourite music was gospel. He didn’t want to do rock ’n roll. He told us ‘I want to do gospel’ so we said we’d hire him for a hundred dollars a week. He loved gospel music,” said Blackwood, recalling how Presley refused to perform on the Ed Sullivan show unless he was allowed to sing “Peace in the Valley.”
Sullivan, arguably one of the most influential people in television in the early 1960s with his variety show that gave many artists an opportunity to be seen around the world, relented.
Presley was dissuaded from joining the Blackwoods when Blackwood told him “your fame is from songs like ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘All Shook Up.’”
Blackwood is quick to dispel any notions about Presley’s drug use that have shadowed the late music pioneer’s career.
“He made mistakes, sure he did. We all do. But he was not a druggie on the street. He took too many uppers and he took too many downers. He had heart and kidney problems. It was a bad. But he was no druggie. He was a very kind person to us.”
In the Blackwood Quartet show, Anderson will sing gospel tunes such as the Anne Murray classic “Put Your Hand in the Hand” along with such standards as “How Great Thou Art” and Presley favourites such as “Love Me Tender”.
“It’s going to be a show people remember. It really touches two worlds.” Follow albeebHerald on Twitter.
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