James Webre Blackwood was born on August 14, 1919, in Choctaw County, Mississippi, to sharecropper William Emmett Blackwood and his wife Carrie Prewitt Blackwood. He was the youngest of four children, which included his brother Roy Blackwood (December 24, 1900 – March 21, 1971), sister Lena Blackwood Cain (December 31, 1904 – March 1, 1990), and brother Doyle Blackwood (August 21, 1911 – October 3, 1974).
In 1926, James and his brother Doyle had developed an interest in gospel music, singing at church gatherings, camp meetings, schools and any place they saw the opportunity. During this period, the brothers sang on WTJS in Jackson, Tennessee.
In early WWII, the quartet temporarily disbanded as James joined the war effort as a factory welder in California. As the other members joined James in California, they resumed singing and the quartet was based in San Diego, Californiafrom 1944 to 1945 as they continued simultaneouslyWORKING in the war related industries. After the war, they returned to Iowa in September 1945 resuming their broadcast on KMA Radio in Shenandoah. The year 1950 found the quartet moving to Memphis, Tennessee and radio station WMPS.
In 1951, they signed a recording contract with RCA Victor Records.
Soon they began traveling to their concert appearances by private plane with R.W. Blackwood and bass singer Bill Lyles as pilot and co-pilot. On 12 June 1954, the Blackwood Brothers won first place on the CBS radio and TV program Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts Show. On 30 June 1954 in Clanton, Alabama, the quartet was preparing for concert at the airport for the Chilton County Peach Festival. During a few practice touch-and-go landings the plane crashed and R. W., Bill Lyles and family friend Johnny Ogburn died in the crash. The quartet re-organized following the plane crash with R. W.'s younger brother, Cecil Blackwood, baritone, and J.D. Sumner, bass. In 1956 the re-organized group appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scout Show and won a second time.
In the mid-1950s the quartet started traveling in a customized bus, another 'first' for the group.
In 1964, the Blackwood Brothers chartered the Gospel Music Association.
After singing with The Blackwood Brothers Quartet for 47 years, James (together with four other veteran gospel singers, Hovie Lister, Jake Hess, J. D. Sumner and Rosie Rozell) formed the Masters V Quartet, the highlight being a joint concert with The Rivertown Boys in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1990 he formed the James Blackwood Quartet along with Ken Turner, Brad White and Ray Shelton. Rosie Rozell would sing tenor in the initial performances, but Larry Ford would quickly become the permanent tenor as Rosie's health deteriorated. This group, like James' preceding groups, would also receive a Grammy nomination.
On May 4, 1939, James Blackwood married Miriam (Mim) Grantham. The couple had two sons James Jr. and Billy. He died of a stroke on February 3, 2002, and is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery East, in Shelby County, Tennessee.
1967 Best Sacred Recording (Musical), More Grand Old Gospel, Porter Wagoner & The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1969 Best Gospel Performance, In Gospel Country, Porter Wagoner & The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1972 Best Gospel Performance, L-O-V-E, Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1973 Best Gospel Performance, Release Me (From My Sin), The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1979 Best Gospel Performance, Traditional, Lift Up The Name Of Jesus, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1980 Best Gospel Performance, Traditional, We Come To Worship, Produced by Mark Blackwood, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1981 Best Gospel Performance, Traditional, The Masters V, The Masters V Quartet
1982 Best Gospel Performance, Traditional, I'm Following You, Produced by Mark Blackwood, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1965 Best Gospel, Sacred, Inspirational Performance,The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1966 Best Sacred Recording (Musical), How Big is God, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1967 Best Gospel Performance, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet Sings for Joy, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1967 Best Sacred Performance, Surely Goodness and Mercy, George Beverly Shea with The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1968 Best Gospel Performance, Yours Faithfully, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1971 Best Gospel Performance, He's Still the King of Kings (and Lord of Lords), The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1974 Best Gospel Performance, There He Goes, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1976 Best Gospel Performance, Learning to Lean, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1977 Best Gospel Performance, Traditional, Bill Gaither Songs by the Blackwood Brothers, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1978 Best Gospel Performance, Traditional, His Amazing Love, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet
1997 Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album, Keep Lookin' Up: The Texas Swing Sessions, James Blackwood and The Light Crust Doughboys
1998 Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album, They Gave the World a Smile: the Stamps Quartet Tribute Album, James Blackwood Quartet and The Light Crust Doughboys
2000 Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album, The Great Gospel Hit Parade: From Memphis To Nashville To Texas, James Blackwood, The Jordanaires and The Light Crust Doughboys
During his longCAREER, James was probably honored with more awards that any other gospel singer. He is the only person in any field of music to have been nominated for a Grammy award for 28 consecutive years. He received 31 total nominations and won 9 Grammy awards.
In the 1990s at the request of Grammy Award-Winning artist-producer Art Greenhaw, lifelong fan and musical disciple of James Blackwood, Blackwood began a series of critically acclaimed recording sessions with Greenhaw's band, TheLight Crust Doughboys. The collaboration resulted in 4 Grammy Nominations in 4 different years for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album of the Year, 2DOVE Nominations for Best Gospel Album of the Year in either southern or country gospel categories and Inspirational TV's Nomination for Best Southern Gospel Album of the Year. The year of Blackwood's death saw the release of We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music: The James Blackwood Tribute Album(2002) which won the Grammy for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album of the Year at the 2003 Grammy Awards in New York City.
In 1983 the Golden State University awarded him an honorary Doctoral Degree of Music. In 1986 Memphis State University awarded him their Distinguished Achievement Award in the field of communications and fine arts. In 1997 the Memphis and Shelby County Optimists Clubs named his Citizen of the Year, presenting him with plaques and citations from 16 government and civic groups.
In 1994 the Singing News Magazine presented James with the Marvin Norcross Award. In 1997 the Gospel Voice Magazine gave him the Living Legend Award. These are among the highest awards in gospel music.
In 2001 he was presented with the General Superintendent's Medal of Honor from the Assemblies of God. The highest recognition from that organization.
He appeared on all of the major television networks, Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts (CBS), Dave Garroway (NBC), JohnnyCASH Show (ABC), Tennessee Ernie Ford Show (ABC), Tom Snyder Show (NBC), Dinah Shore Show (NBC), Hee Haw (CBS), Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters (NBC), Statler Brothers Show (TNN), and on the 700 Club, PTL and TBN.
He sang in all 50 states, every Canadian province, and 35 foreign countries.