Most Influential – #13 – Blackwood Brothers

Most Influential – #13 – Blackwood Brothers

blackwood-brothersThis week continues with the artist ranked 13th among the most influential in Southern Gospel history; the Blackwood Brothers.

A legacy that dates back to 1934, the Blackwood Brothers along with the Statesmen Quartet dominated the Gospel music market place in the 1950’s/early 1960’s.  This duo would tour and do many concerts together during this era.

The original group was all Blackwoods; Roy (tenor), James (lead), RW (baritone) and Doyle (bass).  James became the central figure of the Blackwood Brothers as he would spend nearly 50 years singing lead for the group.  Even after retiring from the group in 1983, James would still make special appearances with the group.  James would even go on to form another quartet (James Blackwood Quartet) in the early 1990’s.

Tragedy struck the Blackwood Brothers in 1954 when two members (RW Blackwood and Bill Lyles) were killed in a plane crash.

The legacy of the Blackwood Brothers continues some 80 years after their start with today’s group; Wayne Little (tenor), Michael Helwig (lead), Billy Blackwood (baritone) and Butch Owens (bass).


  • Blackwods 1960One huge influence the Blackwood Brothers had on the Gospel music industry wasn’t even related to their music.  They were the first group to renovate and begin touring in a bus.  A replica of that bus can be seen at the Southern Gospel hall of fame and museum in Pigeon Forge TN.
  • While I believe the Statesmen had greater influence on the future of Southern Gospel quartet music, the Blackwood Brothers created influence in the individuals that passed through the group.  They include:  Cecil Blackwood, Mark Blackwood, Randy Byrd, John Hall, Pat Hoffmaster, Calvin Newton, Tony Peace, Bill Shaw, JD Sumner, Ken Turner and Brad White.
  • The Blackwood Brothers hold the record for most months spent at #1 on the Singing News chart.  “Learning To Lean” spent 15 consecutive months at #1 between August 1976 and October 1977.
  • Known Songs:  “A Land Where Milk And Honey Flows”, “Climb Every Mountain”, “Crossing Chilly Jordan”, “Everyday Will Be Sunday”, “Fill My Cup Lord”, “Heavenly Love”, “How About Your Heart”, “How Big Is God”, “How Long Has It Been”, “I Believe In The Old Time Way”, “I Want To Be More Like Jesus”, “I Want To Know More About My Lord”, “Learning To Lean”, “Live Right Die Right”, “L-O-V-E”, “Non Stop Fight To Glory”, “Not My Will”, “Old Country Church”, “Ole Brother Noah”, “On The Jericho Road”, “Paradise Island”, “Release Me From My Sin”, “Rock A My Soul”, “Then I Met The Master” and “Wonderful Love”.
  • Best Album:  In Concert (1960)


Here is a YouTube clip, published by Edwin Miolen, of the group performing “Wonderful Love”.  Enjoy!


  • Tim Williams
    July 17, 2013 8:28 AM

    The Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen Quartet during the 1950s and 1960s were at there finest. Nice article!

  • Alan Kendall
    July 17, 2013 12:51 PM

    Honestly, the Blackwoods should rank among the top 10 or even top 5 among influential groups. NQC is another of their achievements, along with record sales in the millions, Grammy awards, and their ability to sell out larger auditoriums on their own during the 50s than a lot of today’s groups put together. Definitely some pioneers there.

    • admin
      July 17, 2013 1:08 PM

      I haven’t seen the rest of Steve’s list, but I agree with Alan on the Blackwood Brothers. I probably wouldn’t put them at the very top of my list, but I would have definitely ranked them in the top 10. I’m interested to see how Steve is going to make the case for 12 more groups to be ranked higher, especially after looking back over his past columns and noting a couple of modern groups that might have been key contenders have already appeared.

      The Stamps and the Statesmen should go rather high, I would think, and knowing how much Steve likes family groups, we should see the Happy Goodmans and the Hoppers in the final 12. What other key groups am I missing?

      You can review all the past entries at this link:

    • Steve Eaton
      July 17, 2013 2:07 PM

      While I do state other factors when listing influence in this series, my main focus when ranking was to look how each artist influenced the music that was/is created for future generations of Southern Gospel listeners. Here is a sentence from the very first post in the series that explained the series: …”This is not a list of what I consider to be the 40 most popular artists in the history of the genre, but 40 artists that have shaped and influenced the music we all enjoy today”…

      The Blackwood Brothers hold influence in all the ways mentioned, but my view is that the music they released/recorded doesn’t hold as much influence as the 12 groups I listed higher.

      This is the kind of discussion I was hoping to generate from the beginning. I am sure the discussions will ramp up as I start counting down the top 10.

      • admin
        July 17, 2013 6:53 PM

        That’s a great point on influence not necessarily corresponding to popularity. Imitation is a better reflection of influence than popularity. The two may go hand in hand at times, but it isn’t always the case.

        I’ve seen more groups copy the Statesmen than the Blackwood Brothers, so I’d rank them higher for sure as I’m expecting you to do in the coming weeks. Time will tell if you agree.

        That being said, I’ve also seen a lot of modern groups copy the Gaither Vocal Band, so I would have rated them quite a bit higher than you did. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an amateur group sing “Satisfied” or “Jesus On The Mainline” using the GVB arrangement. Of course, numerous groups have done the more popular songs written by Gaither as well, like the GVB arrangement of “He Touched Me.”

        Some might equate innovation with influence, but it’s not really influence until other groups start trying to do the same thing. EH&SS has pushed some boundaries, but I don’t see as many groups copying them.

  • Alan Kendall
    July 17, 2013 6:35 PM

    Some groups who would be in my top 40 that have likely been all but forgotten would include the Jordanaires, Homeland Harmony Quartet, Golden Gate Quartet, Rangers Quartet, and I might even argue the Johnson Sisters and Rangers Trio. Their sounds and styles have influenced a lot of groups these days who likely don’t even realize it.

    • John Crenshaw
      July 24, 2013 1:59 PM

      You’re on the money here, Alan. It’s obvious you’ve studied this genre for many years.

  • Dean Adkins
    July 17, 2013 11:05 PM

    I suppose that the number of years one has been involved or a fan has a large bearing on his/her rankings. that being said, I have to agree with Alan and David, their ranking would be much higher based on my near 60 years of observing this genre.

  • Brad
    July 18, 2013 3:40 PM

    I too was surprised to see the Blackwood Brothers at number 13. Some groups that I am guessing are still to come would be: The Statesmen, The Cathedrals, The Kingsmen, Gold City, The Stamps, The Speer Family, The Happy Goodmans, and The Hinsons.

  • Michael McIlwain
    July 18, 2013 10:19 PM

    I am surprised at this low ranking. I do think that the Blackwoods influenced many other groups. A group that has high popularity will influence many due to the sheer availability of their music. I know that one of my uncles used to sit on my grandmother’s back porch on one of his summer visits and drink beer and talk about how great the Blackwood Brothers were. This was in the early 1980s. He would tell about how he would constantly buy Blackwood Brothers records in the 50s and 60s. They sang with Porter Wagoner and had lots of TV exposure – religious and secular.

  • JimT
    July 19, 2013 7:38 AM

    Ranking this group this low destroys any credibility the list might otherwise have had. Like Dean I have been listening to and following this music for 60 years. Undoubtedly Steve Eaton, being much younger, never lived in their era and hence cannot realize the tremendous impact the BB’s had.

  • Ward
    July 19, 2013 4:25 PM

    I’ve enjoyed this list so far Steve. Well done! Until……13th? Really? They’re the freakin’ Blackwood Brothers! They were the ones who made Southern Gospel music popular in the early days and we probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them and groups like them. Okay….put them in the top 5….but the case could be made for them being number 1 even….or at least in my humble, yet accurate, opinion. :).

  • Josh
    July 23, 2013 10:04 AM

    My understanding was that James wanted the name retired,then after his death it shows back up,let these names retire to honor that group.How many Blackwood,Hinson,,etc groups are trying to promote their self by the legends fame.

  • RP
    July 24, 2013 12:15 PM

    This list lost credibility to me when Triumphant Quartet was placed higher than the Hemphills (He’s Still Work on Me, Master of the Wind) and Signature Sound was placed higher than the Florida Boys (Gospel Singing Jubilee) and the Downings… Is this a joke.

    • admin
      July 24, 2013 2:13 PM

      I’d rank Triumphant higher than the Hemphills. They are a model for success in this industry, starting out staying close to home and making the move to tour more once they were firmly established. They’ve also stuck together, which no other group in recent memory has done.

  • John Crenshaw
    July 24, 2013 1:55 PM

    If the Blackwood Brothers are #13, I can’t wait to see the top 12. In my humble opinion, I can’t believe they’re not in the top 5 or even higher.

    • Edwin Miolen
      August 10, 2013 8:42 AM

      I agree with John. The only group that maybe deserves a higher ranking than the Blackwood Brothers of the 50s would be the Statesmen of the 50s with Denver Crumpler or Cat Freeman on high tenor .But I must admit that I am an old timer and feel that the groups of the past are greater to me. Steve,thanks for all you are doing to keep the interest alive. Never let it die.

      • Steve Eaton
        August 10, 2013 10:17 AM

        Thanks for that comment. I can live with people not agreeing with my opinions (I welcome it) as long as they understand, while I may have not been alive during the ‘glory days’ of quartet music, I respect the history of this genre and want nothing more than the current generation of Southern Gospel listeners to know about the artists that have paved the way.

  • Steve Eaton
    July 24, 2013 3:54 PM

    I stand by my rankings for the top 40. If you refer to my explanation a few comments back, this series looks at the artists that influence(d) the music we enjoy as listeners in 2013.

    This is not a countdown of the most popular artists in the history of the genre nor is it a countdown of the most significant (who contributed most to the industry) artists in the history of the genre. If I was doing either of those countdown’s the list would look different.

    I stand firm is saying the music of the Blackwood Brothers does not influence Southern Gospel music in 2013 as much as the 12 artists I ranked higher.

    But the nice part to a series like this, is the disagreement. It should be, because I guarantee everyone’s list would look different. I am actually interested in going back and getting about ten historians together to rank the 40 most significant artists in the history of Southern Gospel music.

    All those who are interested in contributing to that series please email me at

  • JimT
    July 26, 2013 7:59 AM

    And I will stand by my comment that someone who never saw them has no idea how influential they were. I’m not talking about popularity either, although without popularity there wouldn’t have been much influence. As Ward said without them it is likely there would be no southern gospel today, and you can’t get more influential than that.

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