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|BLACKWOOD LEGACY LIVES AT STARLITE THEATRE
April 15, 2016 - Joshua Clark Branson Tri-State News / Elvis Express Radio
After 15 years away from Ozark Mountain Country, one of the most famous and respected names in the history of the gospel music entertainment scene, the Blackwood family, is
now back in Branson performing morning shows at the Starlite Theatre while celebrating 81 years in the business.
The Blackwoods were a big part of the Branson music scene for many years with their own show at the Ozark Jubilee Theater, which was located where the Starlite Theatre now
stands. Today, the Blackwood family legacy is carried on today by R.W. Blackwood Jr., his wife Donna, their daughter Andrea Blackwood Carter, bass singer Jamie Layton, singers
Eddy Bolton and Michael Frost, as well as longtime Blackwood pianist and musical arranger Tommy Fairchild.
The Blackwood name dates back more than 75 years, starting with the Blackwood Brothers Quartet in 1934 with James, Roy, Doyle and Roy’s son R.W. Blackwood, Sr. In 1954, R.
W Blackwood Sr., Bill Lyles and Johnny Ogburn died in a plane crash.
J.D. Sumner then joined the Blackwood Brothers Quartet as the bass singer. While he was a teenager, Elvis Presley idolized Sumner's singing after seeing him perform with the
Sunshine Boys. They became friends and Sumner often spoke of how he used to sneak Presley in to see the Blackwoods sing. The group sang at the funeral of Presley’s mother
Gladys. James Blackwood and Sumner’s own group, the Stamps, also sang at Elvis Presley’s funeral.
In all, the Blackwood Singers have been awarded eight Grammys, 27 Dove Awards, five All-American Music Awards, the Publishers Choice Diamond Award, and the coveted Living
Legend Award in Gospel Music.
In addition to all the accolades, the family has also performed with the likes of Johnny Cash and June Carter, Dolly Parton, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Roy Rogers, and
pop icons such as Frankie Avalon, Cher, and Sammy Davis, Jr.
After carrying on the Blackwood name at performances all over the country, the group spent the last 15 years at the Smoky Mountain Opry Theatre in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee,
and last year was their most successful season to date.
According to R.W. Blackwood, country hitmaker Billy Dean was one of the biggest forces in getting the family to come back to Branson. Their son Robbie Blackwood performs at the
theater as part of Dean’s band, the Steel Horses.
“Billy Dean and the guys came to Pigeon Forge to do our 80th anniversary show and he got the idea that we should come back and be the morning show here,” R.W. Blackwood
said. “He comes back and tells (Starlite general manager) Linda (Merkling) all about us. He essentially set it up is what he did.”
“Linda said that Jason Pritchett and our son Rob kept on hounding her to bring us in,” Donna laughed.
As far as Dean goes, he holds the Blackwood family and name in the highest regard.
“The Blackwood Singers gospel music lineage is iconic in American music history,” Dean said. “Not only were they inspirational to Elvis Presley but to millions of country music fans,
including myself. Gospel music is a tradition in Branson, and we are so proud to have that tradition continue at The Starlite Theatre with the Blackwoods Morning Show for 2016.”
The show features the family performing some of their most popular songs, as well as vintage video clips of the family through the years.
“We still do the same kind of music we always did because we are who we are,” Donna Blackwood said. “The biggest difference performing here is we have more family on stage
with the three of us performing and that helps the harmonies meld together so much better.”
She also said having her daughter on stage is important.
“She takes care of both of us because we’re getting up there in age,” Donna laughed. “(R.W.) and I kind of get off topic and she gets us back on track,” Donna said. “But it is so
wonderful having her back with us.”
Several years ago, Donna was diagnosed with cancer. After a year fighting the disease, she was deemed a “miracle patient” by doctors. She shares her testimony and story during
“After going through the emotions with my fight with cancer and what could have been, we are really grateful to be up on that stage and I think we show it by having as much fun as
we can,” Donna said. “We’re getting older, but we can still move on stage and we stay active, so having fun is a big way we stay young.”
In addition to having fun on stage and praising the Lord, the family also performs a patriotic finale that really drives the “faith, family and flag” Branson shows are known for.
“That’s who we’ve always been and what we’ve always done,” Donna Blackwood said. “We started paying tribute to the flag during the Vietnam War.
“We believed in it then, and it hasn’t changed at all. The Blackwoods are all about faith, family and flag.”
Now that they’re back in Branson, Donna Blackwood said they don’t plan on going anywhere else.
“I’m never moving again,” she laughed. “We have the kids, grandkids and soon, a great-grandbaby, so we’ve got plenty going on right here in Branson. It’s awesome to have my
daughter with me every day, and to see Robbie most days. It’s truly wonderful.”
“The Blackwoods Morning Show” takes the stage at 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday at the Starlite Theatre. For tickets and additional information, visit starlitetheatre.com, or call