‘The Gospel Side of Elvis’ concert in Surrey by quartet with family connections to Presley

‘The Gospel Side of Elvis’ concert in Surrey by quartet with family connections to Presley

Nashville-based singer tells stories about growing up near the iconic rocker

SURREY — Some old family friends of Elvis Presley are bringing a different side of the rock ‘n’ roll “King” to Surrey this month.

The award-winning Blackwood Quartet is touring its “The Gospel Side of Elvis” concert to venues in B.C., and they’ll stop at Surrey Arts Centre on Friday, Nov. 10.

The group will be joined by award-winning impersonator Roger Anderson for parts of the show.

“We’re really excited to be coming up there,” Mark Blackwood, a third-generation gospel singer, said 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 “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 Alright Mama” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” for Sun Records.

“He lived two doors down from us,” Blackwood said. “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 more than 60 million albums.

The group was started in 1934 by Mark Blackwood’s grandfather, Roy Blackwood, along with his son R.W. and brothers Doyle and James Blackwood. Different members eventually came into the mix and the group enjoyed 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 R.W. 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’ grandmother’s funeral and then, when brother James Blackwood was at the helm the quartet, sang at Elvis’ funeral in 1977.

“Everyone knows the rock and roll side of Elvis, but he was really a gospel singer,” Blackwood said. “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 added.

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 in Surrey are available at tickets.surrey.ca, or call 604-501-5566.