The Statesmen and The Blackwood Brothers

Yesterday, reader Bryan Round left a fascinating comment with extensive first-hand observations on life as a Canadian Southern Gospel fan in the 1960s and 1970s. His comparison of Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen sets contained some surprising observations:

The Blackwoods, I seem to recall, were ‘Southern Gospel’ with a few ‘hymn-type’ songs thrown in. . . . The Statesmen, I felt, were also Southern Gospel but rather than appeal to the sausage-fingered, hand-clappers, they catered to the more sophisticated, slicked-back, finger-snappers. . . . Where the Blackwood’s singing was powerful, the Statesmen’s was refined.

But this mixture of groups worked well. Travelling and appearing in pairs meant the Blackwood/Statesmen combo sang to twice as many people than if they performed alone; those of the audience who would curl their lip at J.D.’s swaggering low notes might sit smiling, their heads tilted slightly, as the Statesmen sang. On the other hand, the Statesmen’s intricate harmonies would be totally wasted on the foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’ set. But there would always be a spillover.

As the Statesmen did their finely-tuned material, some of the foot-stompers would start to look at each other, their raised eyebrows saying “not bad”. Similarly, some of those ‘artsy’ uptown folks would be momentarily shocked then amused to find not only their own hands but those of their friends clapping along with a classic Blackwood’s number.

This perspective intrigues me, as all the descriptions I have heard to date comparing the two sets were that the Statesmen were the exciting, energetic showmen who whipped live audiences into a frenzy. Meanwhile, the Blackwood Brothers certainly could do energetic convention songs, but their RCA Victor recordings of the early-to-mid-’60s contain quite a few numbers that suggest sacred music or high church influences. In other words, Bryan’s perspective is diametrically opposed from most previous descriptions I have heard.

Perhaps there is a way to balance or harmonize the perspectives, or perhaps some fans could look at the same experience and draw completely opposite conclusions. Would any of our readers who experienced those days care to shed a little light on the question? (Second-hand observations from those who have discussed this question with older fans are also welcome!)

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