Sunday, April 20, 2014

Blackwood Brothers -- "Peace in the Valley" (1956)

There will be peace in the valley for me

Today is Easter Sunday, so I am featuring a familiar sacred song that I remember from my childhood. 

Most of my childhood memories of church relate to the music that I heard on Sundays -- not only the hymns that were sung during the service, but also the music that I heard on Sunday-morning television or radio as we ate breakfast, got dressed, and drove to church.

The music that I heard when I was visiting my great-grandparents (who lived in the rural community of Goshen, Arkansas) and my dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins -- most of whom attended the local Nazarene church -- was particularly memorable.  It was much more unrestrained than the music I heard in my hometown (Joplin, Missouri), where I attended a somewhat more buttoned-down church.

I loved listening to the Blackwood Brothers and the other male quartets that were often featured on those Sunday-morning television and radio programs, who were usually accompanied by just a piano.

Here's Wally Varner, the long-time pianist for the Blackwoods, playing a snappy little tune called "Happy People" from his Gospel Moods That Thrill album:

I played the piano growing up, which may explain my preference for piano-accompanied gospel music.  

There's really nothing like a good piano accompaniment for a song like "Peace in the Valley."  My apologies to all you folks out there who play guitar or other stringed instruments, but a whole crowd of y'all can't match one accomplished pianist cutting loose on the "King of Instruments."  

My apologies to the ladies as well, but you really can't beat an all-male quartet when it comes to gospel songs.

Elvis with the Blackwood Brothers
I had a low voice, so I loved listening to the bass singers in those quartets.  A good bass could match a good tenor when it came to singing notes that no normal male could hope to reach.  But unlike high tenors, basses never had to worry about having their masculinity questioned.

Few operatic roles call for basses to sing below the second F below middle C, although occasionally a bass has to go another step or two down.  I'm not one to brag, but I can hit a C2 (that's the C that's two octaves below middle C) with ease.  

It's very satisfying to hit a C2 and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you've got plenty of testosterone.  (I'm just sayin' . . .)

"Peace in the Valley" was written in 1937 by Thomas A. Dorsey, a famous composer of gospel songs who had been a successful jazz and blues pianist before he saw the light.  

Dorsey originally wrote the song for Mahalia Jackson.  Red Foley and the Sunshine Boys had a hit with it in 1951, and many other artists have covered it since then -- including Jo Stafford, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and the Blackwood Brothers.

The Blackwood Brothers were formed in 1934 by Mississippi preacher Roy Blackwood, his two brothers (Doyle and James), and his 13-year-old son (R.W.).  Doyle and Roy eventually left the group, and R.W. and one of the replacement singers (Bill Lyles) died in a private plane crash in 1954.  R.W.'s little brother Cecil replaced him, and famous singer J. D. Sumner also joined the quartet.

Here is the 1956 version of the group:

Sumner, who later formed the Stamps Quartet (who toured and recorded with Elvis Presley and sang at his funeral), held the Guinness record for recording the lowest bass note for many years.  

Here's "Peace in the Valley":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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