The men of the acclaimed Blackwood Quartet are gearing up for a City stop this month.
In something of a tribute to Elvis Presley’s own interpretation of gospel music, they perform March 12th at the Memorial Centre, with showtime set for 7 p.m.
In its 80-plus year history the group has landed eight Grammy Awards, 27 Dove Awards, appeared on numerous television programs, recorded more than 200 albums and sold in excess of one million records.
Meanwhile, this particular tour has a special purpose.
“The tour is called The Gospel Side of Elvis,” explains Mark Blackwood. “Elvis loved gospel music and he loved my family – we go way back. My father, Cecil Blackwood, went to Sunday school and church together with him in Tennessee. All they wanted to do was to be gospel singers.”
According to the group’s web site, the Blackwood’s legacy in gospel began in 1934 when brothers Roy, Doyle and James Blackwood along with Roy’s son R.W. formed The Blackwood Brothers Quartet.
Bill Shaw and Bill Lyles eventually join the group and together with James and R.W. Blackwood, this quartet went on to be featured on several TV shows included Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, Hee Haw and the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show in 1954.
A few weeks later, that same year in Clanton, Alabama, tragedy struck when two members of the group, R.W. and Lyles were killed in a plane crash.
After the accident, many fans and critics alike believed that the quartet would not be able to go forward.
However, R.W.’s youngest brother, Cecil, (and Mark’s dad) joined the group along with the bass singer J.D. Sumner.
Mark joined his family in the Blackwood Brothers Quartet in 1986, where he sang lead for many years alongside his dad and many other talented singers.
He said the group has made a point out of working alongside some top names in the industry as a whole, including Willy Nelson at his Farm Aid events and they recently made plans to work with Bob Dylan. “Singing gospel music has been uplifting and edifying,” he said. “When we’re standing up there singing to the people, nothing is a bigger blessing to us than that. We do pray that people are being blessed by the music,” he added of the opportunity to share the gospel message. “Every night is a highlight for me when I get to do this again.
“The spirit of the Lord uses the simplicity and the honesty of four guys singing close harmonies that will never go out of style. And given the opportunity, it will always touch people’s hearts.”
Mark also worked as a producer on the Grammy award-winning Blackwood Brothers albums of the early 1980s.
Eventually, in 2012, Mark formed the Blackwood Quartet. The group tours regularly and brings the word of Christ through song to both believers and non-believers alike.
Over the years, they’ve seen their popularity grow among Elvis tribute artist fans, as well, he said. “His first love was gospel music.” Mark also believes that had Elvis lived longer, he would have retired as a gospel singer as well.
“It’s what he did in his quiet time, his down time, his recreation time. He sold millions of records and won three Grammy awards – and all three were for his gospel records.”
Mark was in his mid-20 when Elvis died in 1977, and he’s got some strong memories of him. “My dad was recording at RCA Studios in Studio A in Nashville once, and we got word that Elvis was in Studio B. My dad said, ‘Do you want to see Elvis?’ I said absolutely! So we walked to the door of Studio B, and the security guard said, ‘Hey Cecil, how are you doing?’ Dad said, ‘We are recording over here and we want to see Elvis.
“Elvis was standing there in the control room, he looked up and saw my dad and said, ‘Hey Cecil, how are you doing?’ Then he looked at me and said, ‘Hey Mark, how are you?’”
In 1958, Elvis sent a plane to North Carolina and brought the group to Memphis to sing at the funeral of his mother Gladys. Mark’s uncle James would also be called upon to sing How Great Thou Art at Elvis’ funeral.
“He loved the Blackwoods, he loved gospel music, he loved the Lord and he loved the church. It was his first love.”
Tickets are available at the Black Knight Ticket Centre by calling 403-755-6626 or visiting http://www.bkticketcentre.ca.