Blackwood Brothers’ concert pays tribute to late father

Published 11:13 am Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sixty years ago, on June 30, R.W. Blackwood, the patriarch of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, and Bill Lyles, bass singer for the quartet, were killed in a plane crash in Clanton.
The Blackwood Brothers were in Clanton to help celebrate the Chilton County Peach Festival. The quartet had achieved national fame and had recently appeared on “The Arthur Godfrey Talent Show,” which was the equivalent of today’s “American Idol.” The day their plane went down was a red-letter day in gospel music.
The Blackwood Brothers Quartet will be in concert at 7 p.m. Friday, June 27, at Park Memorial United Methodist Church in Troy as part of its 60th Anniversary Memorial Concert tour.
“Because this is a memorial concert honoring my dad, R.W. Blackwood, and Bill Lyles, the quartet will be singing the songs that the Blackwood Brothers did through the years,” Ron Blackwood said. “Songs like ‘Peace in the Valley,’ ‘How Great Thou Art’ and ‘He Touched Me.’ And, of course, we’ll sing ‘Learning to Lean,’ which holds the record as the longest running, number-one song in the history of gospel music. The Blackwood Brothers will sing all of the great old favorites that we were all raised on in church.”
For Ron Blackwood, the 60th Anniversary Memorial Concert will be especially significant.
He was only 13 years old when his dad’s plane went down and his life was forever changed.
“My dad was my hero,” Blackwood said. “I wanted to go with him on that trip but he wouldn’t let me. It was like he had a premonition. So, I stayed home and played baseball. Back then, airplanes could buzz the town. There was no law against it. I was at the ballpark and the plane came over with the quartet in it and buzzed the field and waved its wings. My dad waved to me from the pilot’s side. That was the last time ever I saw him.”
The news of his dad’s death hit young Blackwood hard and the entire country mourned the deaths of R.W. Blackwood and Bill Lyles.
“Back then the Blackwood Brothers were like rock stars,” Blackwood said. “When they walked down the streets of New York, people would honk their horns at them. These sons of sharecroppers, who had picked cotton all their lives, were known and recognized everywhere they went.
“The Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen Quartet were the most dominant gospel groups in the world. Rock and country concerts were drawing maybe a thousand people. These quartets were bringing in five to 10 thousand people. They were huge.”
Elvis Presley was a huge fan of the Blackwood Brothers. Blackwood said when Elvis heard of R.W. Blackwood’s death on the car radio, he stopped the car and sat there and cried.
“Bill Gaither said The Blackwood Brothers changed the future and course of gospel music,” Blackwood said. “And, the Blackwood Brothers are still going strong today. We are excited about the 60th Anniversary Memorial Concert and to be back in Troy. We invite everyone who grew up with the Blackwood Brothers and those who enjoy gospel music to join us for this special concert.”
Tickets for the Blackwood Brothers Quartet concert are $10 for general seating and $15 for VIP seating. Tickets are on sale at the Park Memorial United Methodist Church office at 750 Highway 87 in Troy.

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