Classic Southern Gospel Quartets – The Blackwood Brothers

This record album was my favorite Blackwood Brothers album. It was released in 1964 and my favorite

songs on the album were I’ve Got To Walk That Lonesome Road, The Old Country Church, God Made

                   A Way, In Times Like These and Precious Memories. I played this album so much I wore out grooves on

the record and had to order a new copy.

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet bus which can be found at the Southern Gospel Music Museum at Dollywood.

The original Blackwood Brothers quartet was formed 80 years ago in 1934. The group was founded in Choctaw County, Mississippi and some of the descendants of that group are stil singing, under the Blackwood Brothers Quartet name in 2014.

Roy Blackwood, James Blackwood, Doyle Blackwood and R.W. Blackwood was the original configuration for the Blackwood Brothers in 1934.

Tragedy For Blackwood Brothers in 1954

Tragedy struck the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, when two of its members R.W. Blackwood and Bill Lyles were killed, in a plane crash on June 30, 1954. Cecil Blackwood would later replace R.W. Blackwood and J.D. Sumner replaced Bill Lyles as bass after the plane crash.

The Absolute Gospel website has an excellent article describing the accident and the aftermath:

Trendsetters For Southern Gospel Innovations

The Blackwood Brothers were the first southern gospel group, to customize a bus for traveling to concerts.

They also founded the National Quartet Convention which started in 1957 and is still active 57 years later and is held every September.

James Blackwood 1919-2002

I was fortunate to see James Blackwood sing with the Blackwood Brothers many times over the years, when they performed in concerts in the Central Louisiana area. He was an excellent spokesman for the group, during their concerts and was one of my favorite Blackwood Brothers singers.

J.D. Sumner 1924-1998

J.D. Sumner is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records, as singing the lowest note ever sung. I remember in one Bill Gaither video, that he was singing a song, when the organist started to play faster, than Sumner wanted him to. The look he gave the organist was priceless. It may or may not have been a prank on Sumner, but if it was a prank it was not well received.

Two of my favorite Blackwood Brothers Quartet songs featuring Sumner were I’ve Got To Walk Than Lonesome Road and There’s A Light. 

J.D. Sumner on stage with Elvis Presley in 1976, which was a year before Elvis died.

J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet often toured with Elvis Presley. Still not sure if southern gospel was represented well during this time, since they were singing so much secular music during these years. J.D. Sumner gave credit to Elvis for helping him stop being an alcoholic. Shame J.D. couldn’t return the favor and convince Elvis to stop using drugs. Instead J.D. was more of an enabler and more or less discounted reports, that Elvis was a user, when he debunked those reports at the funeral for Elvis. That was before the extent of drug usage was known by the general public, but Sumner with his close proximity to Elvis probably knew exactly what Elvis was doing with drugs.

The golden era of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet are long gone, but their music will live on for years to come. I have a collection of their music from the early days till later years on cassette. It is great to hear the gospel style singing and piano playing, that most of us grew up with in the 50’s and 60’s.

James and J.D. and most of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet singers of the past are gone, but they will never be forgotten.



Bill Gaither Concert in Beaumont, Texas

The Gaither Vocal Band as they appeared on stage in Beaumont, Texas on July 26. The group from left to right is David Phelps, Michael English, Wes Hampton, Mark Lowry and Bill Gaither.


I have been to a lot of southern gospel concerts, over the years but had never seen a Bill Gaither concert till last night at Ford Park in Beaumont, Texas.

My wife Rhonda and me thoroughly enjoyed the show.

The show featured the Gaither Vocal Band, with the Nelons, Martins, Gene McDonald and Angela Primm appearing before the Gaither Vocal Band took the stage.

Gene McDonald the former bass singer for the Florida Boys sang a solo, which is unusual for a bass singer, but he pulled it off, with no problem at all.


Michael English, Bill Gaither, Mark Lowry, David Phelps and Wes Hampton who comprise the Gaither Vocal Band.


The Nelons, Martins, Angela Primm and Gene McDonald finished their acts and then the stage went dark and the Gaither Vocal Band started singing their first song. It was exciting when the stage lights were turned back on and there was the Gaither Vocal Band bigger than life.

Mark Lowry the comedian-baritone of the group carried the show in my estimation, with his humor and him singing his hit song Mary Did You Know. Lowry said that was his only hit, so he was going to sing it. Lowry was the consummate comedian, with his exchanges with Bill Gaither one of the highlights of the concert.

Gaither hosted the concert and did an excellent job of introducing the singers, while also singing bass for the Gaither Vocal Band. The 77-year-old Gaither didn’t show his age as he didn’t seem to tire, as the concert which lasted close to three hours went on.

They did sing a lot of songs, that I hadn’t heard of, so assume it was new material. But that didn’t matter, since whatever song they were singing at the time didn’t matter, because of their delivery of the songs.

Kevin Williams the guitarist transformed into a pitchman shortly before the intermission, as he showed the various products for sale at the product table, by all the performers on the show.

He held up one product and said it was the Beaumont special and Bill Gaither interjected, that it will be the Tulsa, Oklahoma special tomorrow night.

A highlight of the show was when the audience sang along on a song that was sung by a lady, who was not introduced. The song was I Stand Amazed In The Presence and it was a touching moment to hear the huge audience join in singing the song.

Some highlights of previous homecoming shows were shown on the two screens. The audience applauded when the late Vestal Goodman was showing singing from a past homecoming concert.

David Phelps was featured on He is Alive and when he hit those high notes, with his tenor voice it had a huge impact on the audience. He stood out among all the singers, but they all sang well, when they were being featured.

The Gaither classic The King is Coming was sung near the end of the show and it reached a crescendo on the last verse when Michael English started the last verse:

I can hear the chariots rumble, I can see the marching throng

The flurry of God’s trumpet spells the end of sin and wrong

Regal robes are now unfolding, heaven’s grandstand now in place

Heaven’s choir is now assembled, starts to sing Amazing Grace

Then the whole group sang the chorus as it reached an even higher crescendo, as they finished the song.

It was a great night for southern gospel fans, but also a good night for those who like contemporary music.

Gaither Vocal Band

The first configuration of the Gaither Vocal Band when it was formed in 1981, with Steve Green, Gary McSpadden, Lee Young and Bill Gaither.

There have been a total of 16 configurations in the 32 years of the Gaither Vocal Band.

Three of the four current members of the group, excluding Bill Gaither have left the group for solo careers, but have all returned and the current configuration started in 2009.


Timeline For Current Members

Michael English – Was a member of the group from 1985-1994 and returned in 2009, for a total of 15 years with the group.

Mark Lowry – First joined the group in 1988 and remained with the group through 2001, then returned in 2009 for a total of 19 years with the Gaither Vocal Band.

Wes Hampton – Joined the group in 2005 and has been with the group for nine consecutive years.

David Phelps – First stint with the Gaither Vocal Band was from 1997-2005 and rejoined the group in 2009, for a total of 14 years with the group.


All four singers are powerhouse vocalists on their own, but magic happens when they combine their voices, as they had letter-perfect harmony last night.

It was a long show, but still wish it had been longer, because this was a night to remember.








Andy Griffith Before and After Andy Griffith Show

The late Andy Griffith in a scene from No Time For Sergeants.


The first time I heard of Andy Griffith was when he appeared in the movie No Time For Sergeants. He played Will Stockdale a mountain boy, who is drafted into the U.S. Army. He had already played the part in the Broadway play by the same name three years, before the 1958 movie was released.

The funniest scene of the movie to me was when he was named PLO (Permanent Latrine Orderly). He rigged the toilet seats to stand up all at once, which shocked the inspecting officer to say the least. However, this scene of him being tested by a corporal for manual dexterity may be even funnier. Don Knotts plays the corporal, who is utterly frustrated by the way Andy’s character Will Stockdale puts the two links together. Don Knotts appears at about the 1:15 mark.

I hadn’t even known Andy Griffith had appeared in A Face in the Crowd in 1957, in a dramatic role unlike the Andy Griffith I had known in No Time For Sergeants and on the Andy Griffith show.

Andy received top billing in the movie portraying an Arkansas hobo Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes who becomes rich overnight. This is a scene from A Face In The Crowd:

Made Television Debut On U.S. Steel Hour

Andy had made his television debut on the U.S. Steel Hour when he played Will Stockdale on television. He played the role on Broadway, on television and in the movies, which probably has not been done very often, by any actor in the same role.

He also made the movie Onionhead in 1958, so it was a very busy year for him.

Danny Thomas Show Role As Sheriff

Andy got a big break when he appeared on a Danny Thomas episode in 1960, where Danny is given a ticket, by a small-town sheriff.  Andy is perplexed when he finds out that Andy is not only the sheriff, but also the justice of the peace.

The Danny Thomas episode led to the formation of the Andy Griffith show which was shown that same year, on the CBS television network.  249 episodes later the Andy Griffith show would complete its run.

He appeared on Mayberry RFD for two years, then had two series fail in short order, when Headmaster lasted 13 episodes in 1970, followed by the New Andy Griffith show which lasted only 10 episodes. He didn’t return to another series until 1979 when Salvage One only last 19 episodes. He had appeared in three series since leaving Mayberry RFD, but only 42 shows were made of those three series combined.

Seven years later Andy tried again for a hit series and he struck gold with Matlock which ran from 1986-1995. He appeared in various television series and movies till he made his last acting appearance in Play the Game in 2009 at the age of 83.

Andy non only was an actor, but recorded gospel songs. This is Andy singing How Great Thou Art:

I looked at Andy Griffith and saw a role model, for the right way to live life.

My wife and daughter surprised me in 2006, when we went to Mt. Airy, N.C. to see Andy’s boyhood home. I didn’t know we were going to stay there that night and it was the surprise of my life, when I found out we were actually spending the night there. Hampton Inn rents out the home to tourists and it was something I will never forget. I even played baseball with my grandson in Andy’s backyard.

The late Andy Griffith’s boyhood home in Mt. Airy, NC.

Andy had also made some comedy records early in his career. I had the record that has him giving his impression of seeing his first football game. He said in his monologue that 5 or 6 convicts were running up and down the field blowing whistles.  The game was played in a cow pasture and Andy concludes saying that the object of the game must be to keep from being knocked down or stepping in something.

The only remaining actors still alive from Andy Griffith are Jim “Gomer Pyle” Nabors and Betty “Thelma Lou” Lynn.

I was 15 when the first Andy Griffith show was televised in 1960 and was 23 when the last show aired, so have been watching Andy Griffith during the first eight original years and in 44 years of re-runs.

Andy, Thanks for the memories and RIP.







Southern Gospel Music Star Fading In Louisiana?

I can remember many years ago, when southern gospel music quartets appeared in Louisiana more often, than they do today. I can remember driving home from work at the newspaper, for my supper break and seeing the Masters Five Quartet bus in front of our church. The group featured five members consisting of Hovie Lister, Jake Hess and Rosie Rozell of the Statesmen Quartet and James Blackwood and J.D. Sumner of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. It was sad to know I missed seeing some of the giants of southern gospel music, but have seen quite a few concerts since then.

Masters V singing the classic O What A Savior

Today we see fewer southern gospel quartets, soloists and family groups traveling to Louisiana. Many of the southern gospel ministries are centered in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, which means it is a 600 or 700 mile trip to Louisiana. It is even further to southern Louisiana and the gasoline costs to power the busses has stopped some ministries from driving that far.

It is not unusual today to see prices of $15 or more to see a soloist or group sing in concert. There are still some southern gospel artists, that will sing in concert, for only a love offering, but some demand up-front money, before even walking in the door of the concert venue.

I have heard of smaller churches asking the artists to come to their church, but nix the deals when the artists say they need thousands of dollars, before they even show up.

Pennsylvania Hotbed For Southern Gospel

Apparently the churches and other sponsors, of southern gospel music in Pennsylvania can afford the asking prices, since the Harper booking agency lists 26 concerts scheduled in Pennsylvania in the upcoming months. However, Louisiana only has two concerts scheduled, which shows that Louisiana is not attracting southern gospel artists to the state in large numbers.

The original Dove Brothers Quartet configuration of John Rulapaugh, tenor, McCray Dove, lead, Burman Porter, bass, Richard Simmons pianist and Eric Dove, baritone.

My favorite group the Dove Brothers Quartet has no concerts in Louisiana in their current schedule, which shows upcoming concerts from today till December 7 of this year.

Southern Gospel Concerts of the Past

There have been many southern gospel quartets here in the past. We have been able to see the Dove Brothers Quartet, in the Louisiana cities of Oak Grove, Monroe, Jena and Pineville, where we used to live for many years.

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet appeared in the Pineville area many times over the years and will never forget seeing and hearing the great James Blackwood. The Dixie Echoes used to sing in this area often. It was exciting to see Billy Todd singing for the Dixie Echoes, after seeing him sing on the Gospel Singing Jubilee.

A local radio station in Pineville, Louisiana used to sponsor a huge southern gospel concert every year, but that too has vanished from the scene. The Happy Goodman Family appeared there along with many other southern gospel soloists and groups.

The Kingsmen Quartet once sang in Cheneyville, Louisiana and sang in a school. The windows actually rattled during the concert when the quartet reached a crescendo during the concert.

Ann Downing a southern gospel soloist passing through this area, worked in an unplanned concert at Faith Baptist Church in Pineville and I can still remember her not being too happy, because one of the girls there that night was knitting while she sang.

Louisiana is fortunate to have singers like Mark Lanier, who used to sing with the Bibletones, Perfect Heart and Poet Voices living in Ball, Louisiana and who sings frequently in Louisiana concerts. Mark now sings as a solo artist.

Reasons For Decline 

It is sad to know that southern gospel ministries don’t travel this far south very often. There could be many reasons, why so few ministries travel through Louisiana. The gasoline prices may be a major cause of the decline. It may be that when they do make their way into Louisiana, that the attendance is not that great. Fewer people attending concerts usually is going to mean less sales of CD’s of the artists and anything else they may be selling at the concerts.

The artists are going to naturally gravitate to the venues, which produce the most sales of their products. Southern gospel music is not only a ministry, but it is a business which has to make a profit, to provide a living for the members of any group. They have house notes, utilities and other costs, like the rest of us, so they are not going to continue to appear in less profitable venues.

It would be interesting to hear from anyone that reads this article, to find out if there are valid reasons for leaving Louisiana out of the schedules for most artists.

I think the over-riding reason we don’t see southern gospel artists often in Louisiana is money. Maybe someday the fading star of southern gospel will once again shine brightly.


Life and Death of Hank Williams Sr.

Hank Williams Sr. 1923-1953

Hank Williams was born as Hiram King Williams on September 17, 1923 in Mount Olive, Alabama. He changed his name to Hank, since it sounded more like a good name, for a country music singer.

Lillie Williams, his mother would have to raise him, when his father Elonzo was sent to the VA Hospital in Pineville, Louisiana  with a brain aneurysm, where he remained for eight years.

Hank would begin playing the guitar at 8, then first appeared on radio at the age of 13. By the time he was 14 he had formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys.

Roy Acuff once told Williams the dangers of using alcohol, saying “You have a million dollar voice, but a 10 cent brain”.

Began Abusing Alcohol During World War II

World War II would find him working in a Mobile, Alabama shipyard and singing in Montgomery, Alabama. He started abusing alcohol, due to having a congenital spinal disorder, which caused extreme back pain. He would never be able to curb his drinking habit.

It was in 1943 when he met his future wife, Audrey Sheppard.

He was only 23 in 1946, when he signed a songwriting contract with the Acuff-Rose songwriting company. He first hit was Move It On Over recorded on the new MGM record label in 1947. The Grand Ole Opry, which had refused to sign him in 1946 would later sign him in 1949 and he would debut on the Grand Ole Opry stage on June 11,1949, with six encores that night.

Lovesick Blues Was Breakthrough Hit

His big break came in 1949 at the age of 26 when he recorded the 27-year-old song Lovesick Blues, after he had joined the Louisiana Hayride and later would join the Grand Ole Opry.

Williams didn’t know how to read or notate music, yet still had eleven No.1 songs, between 1948 and 1953. Tony Bennett would sing one of his songs, Cold, Cold Heart. 

He would begin recording religious songs, as Luke the Drifter, in case the songs would not be well received.

Williams Family
Audrey, Jett, Hank Jr., Hank Sr.

Divorces Audrey Williams

The back pain of Williams got worse, after Williams fell in a hunting accident. He was now taking morphine and drinking alcohol, because of the pain. His wife Audrey would divorce him in June of 1952, but he would marry Billie Jean Jones, only four months later in October of 1952.

Billie Jean Jones
Billie Jean Jones, daughter of Bossier City Police Chief. She widowed Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Horton.

Two months earlier in August of 1952, Williams was fired by the Grand Ole Opry for habitual drunkenness. He was now not showing up for performances or not singing well, if he did show up.

Health Worsens

Williams was beginning to have heart problems in late 1952. He may have made a critical mistake by contacting a fake doctor who had no real credentials as a doctor as indicated by this paragraph from his Wikipedia biography:


He met Horace Raphol “Toby” Marshall in Oklahoma City, who claimed to be a doctor. Marshall had been previously convicted for forgery, and had been paroled and released from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1951. Among other fake titles he claimed to be a Doctor of Science. He purchased the DSC title for $35 from the Chicago School of Applied Science, in the diploma, he requested that the DSC was spelled out as “Doctor of Science and Psychology”. Under the name of Dr. C. W. Lemon he prescribed Williams with amphetaminesSeconalchloral hydrate, and morphine.[52] 


It would be interesting to know what a real doctor thought, about this cocktail mix of drugs and if these drugs could have sped up the end of his life.

Death Comes In The Morning of January 1, 1953

Hank Williams was supposed to appear in a concert at Charleston, West Virginia on Dec. 31, 1952, but because of an ice storm in Nashville, Tennessee, he was unable to make it there on time. His driver, Charles Carr called ahead to notify management of the auditorium, that they would not be able to make it to Charleston, because of the bad driving conditions.

However, Carr was instructed to drive Williams to Canton, Ohio for a concert on New Year’s Day of 1953. When they arrived in Knoxville, Carr summoned a doctor to the Andrew Johnson Hotel. The doctor injected Williams with two shots of Vitamin B-12, which included some morphine.

Carr proceeded to drive Williams to Bristol, Virginia and asked Williams if wanted something to eat.  Williams told him no, which were probably his last words. Carr then drove on to Oak Hill, West Virginia to refuel, when he realized Williams was dead and notified the local police chief.

The following paragraph describes what the doctor found during the autopsy and what occurred at the Canton, Ohio venue,when the audience was informed that Williams had died en route to Canton.


Dr. Ivan Malinin performed the autopsy at the Tyree Funeral House. Malinin found hemorrhages in the heart and neck and pronounced the cause of death as “insufficiency of the right ventricle of the heart.”[59] That evening, when the announcer at Canton announced Williams’s death to the gathered crowd, they started laughing, thinking that it was just another excuse. After Hawkshaw Hawkins and other performers started singing “I Saw the Light” as a tribute to Williams, the crowd, now realizing that he was indeed dead, sang along.[60] 




I will never forget the scene in the Your Cheatin’ Heart movie when the audience, was told that Hank had died, then everyone starts singing I Saw The Light. One of the most special moments in any movie ever.


Honky tonk hero Hank Williams died in his sleep in the back seat of this 1952 Cadillac on Jan. 1, 1953. The car, along with clothing he was wearing when he died, costumes, instruments, gold records and other music memorabilia, is at Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery.
Hank Williams died in the backseat of this 1952 Cadillac.


His funeral on January 4, 1953 attracted more people, than to any other funeral in the history of Alabama, up to that time. Estimates range as low as 15,000 and high as 25,000 that filed by his silver coffin.

This is a small portion of the funeral service for Hank Williams on January 4, 1952.

It was ironic that one of his best-known hits, Your Cheatin’ Heart hadn’t been released prior to his death, but it would remain No.1 on the country charts for six weeks.

This is the announcement made on WCKY radio telling of the death of Hank Williams, followed by Hank singing I Am Bound For The Promised Land.

Left Musical Legacy

Hank Williams may have only recorded music from 1947-1952, but he left a  lasting imprint among country music fans and will always be remembered by the fans who enjoyed his music in the past. His music will continue to be passed on to future generations, as even today his music is still being sung.

He recorded a lot of gospel songs, as well as country hits. These are just some of his songs:

If this song I Dreamed About Mama Last Night doesn’t touch the heart of anyone that has lost their mama, something is seriously wrong.

This song Be Careful of Stones That You Throw will make us think twice before we throw stones at others.

Hank Williams may have died 58 years ago at the age of 29. Hank would be 87 if he was still living today. He may not have lived long on this earth, but he brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people through his musical legacy.

He only lived through the terms of four American presidents in his 29 years. We know Hank Williams had his faults, like the rest of us, but as he passed on his music to future generations, we will also pass on his music to those who have never heard his music in the coming years. Thank you Hank for reminding us to see the same light, you saw when you sang I Saw The Light.









Old Time Radio Poll

The last old time radio show aired on September 30,1962. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar being the last old time radio shows to be broadcast.

The poll today breaks down by age groups of people who have heard old time radio shows either live from 1920’s till September 30, 1962 or media such as MP3 CD’s and downloads:

Favorite Southern Gospel Song: The Lighthouse

Kenny Hinson and the Hinsons sing The Lighthouse in a concert before his death.

There have been many great southern gospel songs written and sung in the history of southern gospel music but the song that is my personal favorite is The Lighthouse sung by the Hinsons.

This song is southern gospel music at its best and when the rest of the Hinsons join in with Kenny for the chorus it gets even better. Then the crowd joins in at the end to sing the chorus.