James Blackwood: End of an Era?

Written by Ken Horn, managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel magazine.

     They called him Mr. Gospel Music. But he was much more than that. James Blackwood passed away on February 3 of this year. With the passing of the last of the original Blackwood Brothers Quartet, it would be easy to consider this the end of an era. Music has changed since James and the Blackwoods were trailblazers in music ministry.

     The first Christian record I ever bought was a Blackwood Brothers album. As I grew up there was little I wanted more than to be like the Blackwoods. That inspiration led me to sing in two traveling quartets when I attended Bethany College. It also made me grateful for the opportunity to get to know James Blackwood in recent years.

     James won countless awards during his lifetime, including nine Grammys and seven Doves. But, according to the biography his family prepared for his funeral, his “most coveted award” came when he received the General Superintendent’s Medal of Honor at the 2001 General Council of the Assemblies of God in Kansas City, MO. I was privileged to congratulate him right after he left the platform.

     James was disturbed at some of the trends in contemporary Christian music. It was important to him that Christian music remain pure and true to the gospel – that it remain ministry. He told me that his measure of gospel music was if it clearly glorified God. If it didn’t, it’s not really Christian music and should not be represented as such. I find it hard to disagree with that.

     He passed this outlook on to many, including his oldest son, Jimmy. When I went through a lengthy illness more than a decade ago, it was Jimmy’s music that I played over and over to lift my spirits and reinforce that God was in control. Talent can produce good music, but only anointing can produce music that is ministry. This is the Blackwood legacy.

     James was a man of God, but he didn’t live his life without regrets. He told me he never could understand the reason God allowed the plane crash in 1954 that took the lives of two of the quartet members – his nephew R.W. Blackwood and bass singer Bill Lyles. “When I get to heaven I want to find out the purpose of that plane crash,” he told me. “There are some things we just don’t understand.” By now he has had a sweet, long-awaited reunion.

   I hope that the passing of James Blackwood is not the end of an era. I pray that today’s singers and musicians will take their cue from him and make music that doesn’t just sell, but touches lives for Jesus.

     Goodbye, James. We’ll meet you in the morning.


Reprinted from the June 9, 2002 issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.  Used by permission.