Quartet Night Across America

Blackwood Brothers Quartet

Along with the incredible sounds of Southern Gospel music come great history and stories, and the audience will experience it all in one night on one stage when Quartet Night Across America brings jubilation to the Julie Rogers Theatre on Friday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m.

“This show is the panoramic history of this genre and the art form of Southern Gospel,” said Billy Blackwood of the award-winning group the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. “It’s not just a concert; it’s storytelling.”

Joining the Blackwood Brothers Quartet will be Legacy Five, Brian Free & Assurance, and the Tribute Quartet. Tickets are $20 (general admission), $30 (artist circle) or $42 for a VIP package that includes a meet-and-greet, CD, DVD and artist circle seating. Purchase points are the Beaumont Civic Center box office, ticketmaster.com and the Julie Rogers Theatre on the day of the show.

“Southern Gospel dates back to 1901 when four-member male harmony groups would travel and create income by performing and selling songbooks,” said Blackwood, whose late father James started the Blackwood Brothers Quartet in 1934 with brothers Roy, Doyle and Roy’s son, R.W. The group traveled all over the world and amassed eight Grammy Awards.

“As Southern Gospel progressed as an art form, those who were involved with the groups realized there was an entertainment value to it,” said Billy Blackwood. “Particularly in the ’50s, with my dad’s group, along with the likes of the Statesmen Quartet, they rose to the top of the heap and took it to new heights. It became a powerful presentation, and for many Christians and churchgoing people, it gave them and afforded the church world something to do that was not only spiritual, but entertaining.”

Show promoter Paul Pitts says the audience will be in for a treat — a musical experience like you won’t believe.

“We also have a complete radio station set up on stage along with a disc jockey who will interview each of the four leads from the groups, which will help tell the history of the music,” said Pitts. “There’s a little bit of everything.”

Pitts explained the show opens with all four groups on stage singing “Quartet Singing Going On,” a tune written specifically for this show by Dianne Wilkinson.

“There is also a patriotic medley during the middle of the show with songs such as ‘America the Beautiful,’ ‘God Bless America’ and ‘My Country, Tis of Thee,’” said Pitts. “Trey Ivey, who is the youngest member and pianist of Legacy Five, arranged this portion of the show.”

Of course, concertgoers will hear the classics such as “How Great Thou Art,” “Give Me That Old Time Religion” and an Elvis jubilee.

The tenors in each group will take the lead and continue to go higher and higher on the scale until Brian Free hits the highest note of them all, which usually brings the audience to their feet, according to Pitts.

“After intermission, every singer returns to the stage forming a semicircle and participates in a ‘Scrap Iron Quartet,’” said Pitts. “The audience will participate by requesting songs and four different members will form a new quartet and will sing those requested songs. Also, each group will sing several new songs from their latest records, so fans are basically getting three concerts in one night.”

Many of the greats of country and rock ‘n’ roll recorded gospel records including Elvis, Johnny Cash, Oak Ridge Boys and Alan Jackson, just to name a few.

And for Blackwood, Elvis hits close to home.

“In 1949, Vernon Presley moved the family to Memphis to a place called Lauderdale Courts, which was low income housing,” said Blackwood. “It was four blocks or so from the City Auditorium, and Elvis started attending the monthly concerts that were headlined by my dad’s group, the Blackwood Brothers. He grew up loving the music and when he later became famous, Elvis always had a quartet backing him, which were the Jordanaires, the Imperials and several more.”

Blackwood began playing drums at the age of 14 with the iconic J.D. Sumner, who was friends with his father and a member of the Blackwood Brothers for nine years until 1965.

“He and my dad became business partners and great friends,” said Blackwood. “In ’64, they bought the Stamps Quartet Music Company in Dallas, then J.D. began singing bass for the Stamps Quartet as well as managing them first hand. My older brother Jimmy joined the Stamps at that time and I went along that summer to play drums for the Stamps. I quit high school my junior year and took correspondence courses so I could start traveling with the Stamps full time. My dad’s health began declining and my brother Jimmy and I left the Stamps and joined the Blackwood Brothers so my dad could take a lesser role, which was 1970.”

Billy then took a gig that saw him in 1973, as the drummer for the band Voice, performing on the same nights as Elvis.

“It was surreal,” he said. “Plus he and my dad were friends and we would make trips out to Graceland to visit with him. He was an enigmatic figure.”

During the last few months of the tour opening for Elvis, Billy rededicated his life to the Lord and got back into music, but into contemporary gospel.

“My cousin Terry (Blackwood), who sang in the Imperials with Elvis, left the group and started a new group called Anderson/Blackwood, which I joined in the late ’70s through early 80s,” said Billy. “I left that group in 1985 and went into traveling ministry and began writing my own songs.”

In 2009, the Blackwood Brothers were celebrating their 75th anniversary and the record company, Daywind Records, wanted to release a celebratory album, so he and his brother Jimmy got involved with the project.

“I arranged the vocals and wrote charts for the band,” said Billy. “I began singing in the studio, and it just felt right. I didn’t intend to go full time with the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, but the collective light bulb went off and I knew this is what I needed to be doing.” 

His brother retired a few years later and Billy found himself the head of the group that his father created.

“God has forwarded me the opportunity to carry on the 81-year tradition,” Billy said. “I wanted to do it with excellence and keep contributing to Southern Gospel music, which is an honor and one I don’t take lightly.”