Jimmy Blackwood announces retirement

Jimmy BlackwoodThe Blackwood Brothers announced at 4 A.M. Eastern Time on their Facebook page that Jimmy Blackwood is retiring.

Jimmy Blackwood is the son of the late James Blackwood. (James, who had one of Southern Gospel’s most legendary voices, co-founded the Blackwood Brothers in 1934 and was a 1974 inductee into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and a 1997 inductee into the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame.)

Jimmy got his start in Gospel Music in 1965, when he joined J.D. Sumner and the Stamps as their baritone, and sang with them through 1969. In the early 1970s, James Blackwood had health issues which forced him to step back to a less active role in the Blackwood Brothers, and Jimmy joined as their lead singer. He stayed with them for about a dozen years, through about 1985. During his years with the Blackwood Brothers, they won five of their eight Grammy® Awards—”Best Gospel Performance (Other than Soul Gospel) in 1972 for L-O-V-E and in 1973 for Release Me (From My Sin), and “Best Gospel Performance, Traditional” in 1979 for Lift Up the Name of Jesus, in 1980 for We Come to Worship, and in 1982 for I’m Following You. He was also with the group for their mega-hit “Learning to Lean,” which was #1 from August 1976 through October 1977 on the Singing News radio charts. 

After several decades off of a quartet bus, he joined the Blackwood Gospel Quartet in about 2003 for a brief period, before bringing the Blackwood Brothers name back in 2004. During his eight years at the helm, he brought the group name back to the forefront of Southern Gospel; highlights included a recording contract with Daywind Records and a return to the mainstage of the National Quartet Convention, a group that Blackwood Brothers members co-founded.

His brother, Billy Blackwood, played drums for the group in the 1970s. He rejoined, stepping into the baritone position, in 2009, and will carry the group name forward.

The announcement, which stated that the group announced Jimmy’s retirement last night at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center in Bartlett, Tennessee, went on to say: “New singer is Mike Helwig. He has a great voice and will be a great asset to the quartet.”

Helwig got his start in Gospel Music at 19. A Canadian native, he sang for Canadian groups The Torchmen and Unashamed; he won a Dove Award for Favorite Tenor from the Canadian division of the Gospel Music Association in 1997. Several years later, he moved into the United States Gospel Music scene. He has been a member of the Wilburns, the Stamps, the Williamsons, and the Dixie Echoes. In June, he left the Dixie Echoes to join Promise, staying with them for about three months before moving to the Blackwood Brothers.

When he joined the Dixie Echoes, we featured a “Past the Press Release” interview with him here.

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22 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Wow – that sure will change their sound in a major way, I would think. Jimmy had his dad’s sound which also became the sound of the quartet. I wish them well.

    I wonder who Promise will get?

    Guess Gerald Wolfe’s statement rings true again, eh? Is this the 1st change since NQC? 🙂

    • It’s the first to be made public, if you don’t count the announcement of Gaither hiring Matthew Holt, which he informally announced at NQC and formally announced yesterday.

    • I think the new Blackwood Brothers sound will be great. When Mike and Butch were both with the Blackwood Quartet (formerly the same Blackwood Gospel Quartet that Jimmy was with) the sound was great. Mike has that nostalgic, quartet singer’s voice that will fit well with their more classic sound.

      • Neat. I didn’t hear the Blackwood Quartet at that point, but I do know that Mike’s style fit fairly well with another traditional group, the Dixie Echoes.

        From one sonic standpoint, I’m still having a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of a Blackwood Brothers without James or Jimmy on lead. (I know, I know, they went that way for twenty-plus years, under Cecil’s direction, but I have essentially nothing from that era. Pretty much everything I have has James or Jimmy on lead.)

        But from another sonic standpoint, I’ve been thinking for eight years that Jimmy Blackwood’s and Wayne Little’s voices were vastly different in tone and placement. Perhaps with a different lead singer in place, the group’s blend will go in new directions that, while not the same, will be quite good in another way.

      • Here’s a YouTube video from when Mike was with the Blackwood Quartet.


      • That’s definitely more of a Blackwood sound than I was expecting!

  2. Oh no! I saw them last week, and didn’t take the chance to talk with Jimmy!
    This is like when Jim Hamill left the Kingsmen, or when Tim Riley left Gold City, in that it’s hard to imagine a group without a particular person.
    But, both of the above mentioned groups came out of the change strong. May God bless the Blackwood Brothers during this time of transitsion.

    • Yes, it’s hard indeed to imagine; he defined their sound.

  3. Wow! All I can say is wow! We just had them at our church and without Jimmy there, I am not sure we would have agreed to have them back. Let’s see though what happens with Jimmy off the bus. God knows what he is doing!

    • It was just last week or the week before that they were at your church, right? Wow – one of Jimmy’s last 5-10 dates was at your church.

      • Yes, that is correct! I had a hard time when I found out Cecil had passed away, but for some reason, it seems equally as difficult knowing that Jimmy will not be on the bus…the sound will be gone! There almost always was a James/Jimmy lead sound in the quartet. What change is in store. But like I said God knows what he is doing, and this may be a huge door opening for the quartet and we might be amazed when we see what is around the corner…not that we will not miss Jimmy!

      • Wednesday, September 19th. Wow!
        Thank you, Paul, for booking them when you did.
        Watching them that night, something just didn’t seem to “come together”. Perhaps Jimmy had already made the decision to retire, and the news was weighing on them that night.

  4. When does his retirement begin?

    • The story on Singing News offered additional clarification: “Michael Helwig will be replacing Jimmy, starting today, September 28, 2012.”

      In other words, immediately!

  5. I think Helwig sounds a lot better in the lead range than at tenor. Good hire for the group!

  6. I was equally taken back when I got that phone call. My firs concern was for Jimmy’s health but Billy assured me that he was healthy and strong and that he just wanted to retire and spend time with his family.
    my wife and I were sitting on our front porch a week before the blackwood brothers called discussing the possibly of my retiring from gospel music, and all the logistics involved on us moving back to Canada. Seems God had other plans.
    I am well aware that I have big shoes to fill. I must however daunting the task, do what God says and go where he asks .
    So all I ask is for your prayers and support through this scary yet exciting time in my life.

    • Thanks for the update!

    • I am excited for you…can’t wait to hear the new sound!

    • Congradulations, Mike. It’s just like God to change man’s plans, and give something far better than we could think of or make happen ourselves, in our own mind and our own stregnth. Good to hear this testimony from you!
      God bless.

  7. Jimmy is a class act. Great man and a great voice. I will miss him with the Blackwood Brothers. Mike is a great singer though. The group will be fine.


  9. GOOD LUCK !!!