The Blackwood Quartet are presenting The Gospel Side of Elvis in Penticton on Nov. 3. Submitted photo

Blackwood Quartet touring the province

Old family friends of Elvis Presley are bringing a different side of the King of Rock and Roll to Penticton on Nov. 3.

The award-winning Blackwood Quartet kicks off the B.C. leg of their new tour, The Gospel Side of Elvis, at Cleland Community Theatre at 7:30 p.m. The group will also be performing in Kamloops (Nov. 4 at the Kamloops Coast Hotel and Conference Centre), Kelowna (Nov. 5 Kelowna Community Theatre), Vernon (Nov. 6 at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre), Maple Ridge (Nov. 9 at the ACT Arts Centre) and Surrey (Nov.10 at the Surrey Arts Centre).

They will be joined by award-winning tribute artist Roger Anderson for parts of the show.

“We’re really excited to be coming up there,” said Mark Blackwood, the third generation gospel singer, during a phone interview from his home in Nashville, Tenn. “We’ve performed in B.C. before but haven’t toured the entire province like we’re doing this time. We’ve got six dates in eight days. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Long before the Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog singer became famous for gyrating those hips of his, a connection between the families was formed.

Blackwood’s dad Cecil grew up going to church with Elvis Presley and attended the same Sunday school.

“We knew him from around the neighbourhood,” Blackwood said nonchalantly.

During the show, he tells a story about the day his parents brought him home from the hospital as a newborn in 1954 a few weeks before Presley recorded his first breakout hits That’s All Right and Blue Moon of Kentucky for Sun Records.

“He lived two doors down from us. My mom carried me into the apartment where we lived. Elvis ran across the grass yelling for my dad, ‘Cecil, Cecil. Let me see your new baby.’ And my mom turned to my dad and said, ‘Get that nasty boy away from my baby.’ Elvis was hurt but forgave her because he knew her from church. They had no idea then that one day he would go on to sell millions of records and become the icon he is.”

Although Presley might have risen to the ranks of cultural icon, the other singers in the neighbourhood — the Blackwoods — did alright for themselves too. The quartet, which spans three generations of the family, has earned nine Grammy Awards, 27 Dove Awards and sold over 60 million albums.

The group was started back in 1934 by Mark Blackwood’s grandfather, Roy Blackwood, along with his son RW and brothers, Doyle and James Blackwood. Different members eventually came into the mix, and the group had much success appearing on popular TV shows of the day including The Barbara Mandrell Show, Hee Haw and the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show.

In 1954, just after Mark Blackwood was born, his uncle RW tragically died in a plane crash. Presley considered joining the group in the wake of the tragedy, but his career in a new form of music dubbed rock and roll was just starting to takeoff. Instead Cecil, Mark Blackwood’s father, joined the group.

Cecil Blackwood’s quartet would later go on to sing at Elvis’s grandmother’s funeral and, when brother James Blackwood was at the helm the quartet, sang at Elvis’s funeral in 1977.

“Everyone knows the rock and roll side of Elvis but he was really a gospel singer. My grandmother was shocked at his music. A lot of people think Elvis was born to sing rock and roll, but we think he was born to sing gospel. It was a big part of his life and actually he won three Grammys in his career, and all were for his gospel work,” he said.

Blackwood said those who come to the show will be treated to an uplifting experience listening to traditional gospel songs and personal stories about the family’s connection to Elvis.

“The fame never changed him with us. He was always Elvis and he appreciated us and we miss him. The show’s filled with heart touching stories and uplifting gospel music. Everyone loves gospel music. We don’t want people to forget he loved the gospel.”

Tickets for the show are $48 and can be bought online at etixnow.com or by calling 1-888-790-1477.

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