The Blackwood Quartet performs in Red Deer on Thursday

Blackwood Quartet brings spirit of the king

The Blackwood Quartet will channel more than the Holy Spirit when the Southern group performs at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre. The quartet will be singing gospel songs popularized by Elvis Presley at the Thursday, March 12, concert.

The Blackwood Quartet will channel more than the Holy Spirit when the Southern group performs at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.

The quartet will be singing gospel songs popularized by Elvis Presley at the Thursday, March 12, concert.

Before the late Memphis singer became the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, he had ties to the Blackwood family that stretched back to the late 1930s.

The quartet’s lead singer Mark Blackwood said his father, Cecil Blackwood, attended Sunday school with Presley when both were boys. The two church friends formed their first gospel quartet, Songfellas, in Tennessee before Elvis’s hips ever began to twitch.

Even after Presley’s rise to meteoric fame, he remained in touch with the Blackwoods. In 1958, Elvis sent a plane to bring the gospel group then known as the Blackwood Brothers back to Memphis to sing at his mother Gladys’s funeral.

In 1977, Mark’s uncle, James Blackwood, was asked to sing How Great Thou Art at Elvis’s funeral.

Presley is known as “a good man with a good heart,” by Mark. “He stood in front of thousands of people around the world, and he sang gospel music,” added Mark, who feels people listened because of Presley’s special presence, which was fuelled by his strong faith.

“Elvis only won three Grammys in his life and they were all for gospel music.”

The Gospel Side of Elvis concert by the Blackwood Quartet will feature many of the devotional songs associated with Elvis: When No One Stands Alone, Working On a Building, How Great Thou Art, Stand by Me, and others.

Through this repertoire, the quartet aims to pay tribute to Presley’s considerable contribution to popularizing gospel music.

Mark believes the special quality that Elvis embodied was something even Presley himself couldn’t pin down.

“He would also ask, ‘Why me? Why am I having this kind of success?’

“As far as we were concerned, he was just a guy and a neighbour that we knew. He went on to sell 30 million records but never changed. He always treated us the same. He was a movie star, but he was also just a guy from Memphis and our neighbour. …”

The Blackwood Brothers originally formed in 1934. In 1954, two members of the group were killed in a plane crash and Cecil was asked to join.

The gospel quartet reformed over the years with various other friends and family members. Mark joined in the 1980s and produced a Blackwood album that won a Grammy award. (Blackwood recordings have actually won a total of eight Grammys over eight decades.)

For the past seven years, the quartet has consisted of lead singer Mark, the only Blackwood family member, as well as baritone singer Casey Shepherd, tenor Ray Ashmore and bass David Mann.

“We have shifted back to the traditional singing style of four-part harmony,” said Mark, who believes its “simplicity and honesty” is always relatable to audiences. “It strikes a chord in people’s lives.”

In any case, gospel music is all about the message in the songs and how much it moves the heart, he added.

“I hope that the people who come to our concerts are taken some place in their minds and their lives, (and that the music) uplifts and encourages them. If they don’t know the Lord already, I hope that they come to know the Lord. That’s what we’re all about.”

Tickets to the 7 p.m. concert are $62.90 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.

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