The Blackwood Quartet's current members are (left to right) Andrew Bailes, Casey Shepherd, Mark Blackwood and Terry Toney.

Archived Story

Blackwood Quartet coming to Clanton

Published 5:51pm Friday, June 22, 2012

Back in the days when the voices of Johnny Cash, Bill Gaither and the Mandrell Sisters permeated American music halls and living rooms, a group named the Blackwood Brothers Quartet was making a name for itself.

The original quartet, based out of Choctaw County, Miss., was formed in 1934 and consisted of three brothers, Roy, Doyle and James Blackwood, plus Roy’s oldest son, R.W. Blackwood.

Despite member changes, the up-and-coming quartet stayed together and sang gospel music at church and community events.

In 1954, they landed a spot on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show on CBS and won first place, received a recording contract with RCA and went on the books as the first gospel group to sell a million records.

But just as their careers were taking off, the quartet suffered a devastating loss.

On the night of June 30, 1954, members R.W. Blackwood Sr. and Bill Lyles died in an airplane crash in Clanton after performing at the airport for a crowd of about 5,000.

The original members of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet were (clockwise from top, center) Jackie Marshall, pianist; Bill Lyles, bass singer; R.W. Blackwood Sr., baritone singer; James Blackwood; and Bill Shaw, tenor singer.

Blackwood was piloting the plane with Lyles as his co-pilot when it went down in a test flight prior to their flight home, according to Blackwood’s son, Ron, who was 13 years old at the time.

“It changed my entire life,” Ron Blackwood, 72, said. “I kept blaming God for taking my daddy.”

With time, though, Ron’s grief lessened, and he followed in his father’s footsteps as a gospel singer for about 52 years.

“My daddy left me a legacy that is incredible,” he said.

The remaining group members stayed together and added Cecil Blackwood, who sang baritone in his brother R.W.’s place, and J.D. Sumner in Lyles’ former bass position.

The new Blackwood Quartet preserved what the original members had created and sang their way to fame in the gospel music industry, never forgetting the fallen two who helped clear a path to greatness.

Ron said the members frequently mentioned Clanton in TV interviews when relating the events of that fateful summer night in 1954.

Today, a monument at the airport marks the site of the plane crash.

On Saturday, June 30, the current Blackwood Quartet will give a free concert at the Helen E. Parrish Activity Center at Clanton First United Methodist Church at 6 p.m.

The concert will coincide with the 58th anniversary of the plane crash in Clanton.

“It’s going to be a great concert,” Ron said. “It’s going to be a happy concert.”

Ron lives in Waco, Texas and is the Blackwood Quartet’s manager.

For more information, contact Clanton First United Methodist Church at (205) 755-0490 or email secretary@clantonfumc.org or adminassist@clantonfumc.org.

To learn more about the Blackwood Quartet and its history, visit Blackwoodquartetonline.com.

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