The founding father of one of the most enduring groups in country gospel music has died. The news provider country.com reports that James Blackwood, the last surviving member of The Blackwood Brothers Quartet, has died in a Memphis hospital, following complications from a stroke. He helped found the singing group in the early 1930s and saw it become an international sensation. Over the years it became one of the most recorded groups in its genre. The brothers helped found the Gospel Music Association in 1964. Over the years the singing group earned eight Grammys. During the 1960s the quartet slacked off on road touring and became a popular backup group in many Nashville recordings sessions. The Blackwoods can be heard on many of Porter Wagoner's and Barbara Mandrell's big songs. Blackwood earned the nickname "Mr. Gospel Singer of America." He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974. The quartet entered the hall in 1998. James Blackwood was 82. By the way, in large part it was the efforts of Blackwood and his brothers that carved a niche in American music for the white gospel sound. Southern country gospel music is so popular that it is even distributed to radio stations via satellite on a 24/7 basis. There are over 100 radio stations in the country, mostly in the South, whose entire format is country gospel. Those stations have James Blackwell to thank.
CLINTON VISITS POSH L.A. PARTY
Bill Clinton, the former president who some say may soon get his own talk show, has gone west to attend a posh housewarming party at the home of the Honorable Sim Farar. He served during Clinton's watch as this country's representative at the United Nations. It was a very private affair, according to gossip columnist Liz Smith. Among the 20 or so attendees were Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Kathy Ireland and Greg Olsen. The chef tapped to do the honors was Gerry Garvin, who served up one of Clinton's favorite dishes ... Atlantic salmon tartare. During the party Clinton reportedly told fellow guests that he: (1) misses being in politics, (2) thinks his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is doing a fine job and (3) still is in awe of the way the country pulled together after the terror attacks on 9/11. Next stop for Clinton ... the Salt Lake City Olympics.
BATMAN ACTOR TO CO-HOST KIDS' GALA
A lot of young people loved actor Michael Keaton's incarnation of Batman. Now, according to the New York Post, Keaton has begun to devote some of his time to the cause of children's health. Keaton and TV's Jane Pauley are teaming up to co-host a fundraiser in the Big Apple for the Children's Health Fund. The group is the brainchild of children's advocate Dr. Irwin Redlener and singer-songwriter Paul Simon. It's been raising money for special projects for more than 15 years. The publication notes that "it currently has its hands full consoling youngsters who are bereft after the events of Sept. 11." The president of American Home Products, philanthropist Robert Essner, will be honored at this week's gala. Paul Simon will be on hand to entertain.
'O BROTHER' TO BE HONORED AT GRAMMYS
The soundtrack CD from the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" has become so phenomenally popular that the producers of the Feb. 27 Grammy awards have decided to devote a special segment to it. They say that a group of established country stars will join in a tribute to the album, which has brought the sound of "roots country" to a wider audience. Among those who will perform are the Soggy Bottom Boys, Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris and Gilian Welch. Meanwhile, the CD is up for Album of the Year. Several performances from the compilation have also been nominated for the prestigious award, including Stanley's "O Death," for Best Male Country Vocal and the Soggy Bottom Boys ("I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow") for Best Country Collaboration. The soundtrack's producer, T Bone Burnett, is up for the Best Non-Classical Producer award. CBS will air the event from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
MLB TEAM UPSET OVER STADIUM NAME
Now that the mention of the word "Enron" causes people to think a lot of negative thoughts ... mismanagement, bankruptcy, suicide ... is it really the five letters the Houston Astros want in 20-foot-tall lights on the outside of their stadium? Well, Eric Berger, writing in the Houston Chronicle, says that team owners are so worried that the fans will link the failed energy company with the ballclub -- because it plays in Enron Field -- that they are approaching the backruptcy judge (handling the Enron case) to wrest the name away. Enron signed a 30-year deal for naming rights, paying the Astros $100 million along the way. Now, though, some in the team's ownership tell the publication that they fear that Enron will try to sell the name and its private boxes to other companies to get some quick cash. Effectively, that would mean that the Astros might play in a stadium whose name is even more of an anathema than the Enron moniker.
MEG RYAN GETS RESTRAINING ORDER
Actress Meg Ryan, according to Santa Monica, Calif., court records, has asked for and gotten a three-year restraining order to keep a man away from her ... a man who claims to be her husband. The man in question is 30-year-old John Michael Hughes, of Florida. He was recently arrested for trying to drive onto the private Texas ranch of President George Bush, carrying a cache of high-powered automatic weapons. Police on the West Coast arrested Hughes at a home belonging to a man named Tomas Ryan. That Ryan is not related to the actress. Meg Ryan, who did not appear at the court hearing, was represented by a lawyer who claimed that her client feared for her safety. By the way, Hughes claims that he and Meg Ryan were married, in Canada, on 9/11.
UPI DAILY SURVEY QUESTION NO. 262
A couple of weeks ago we asked how much of a packrat you are. Today we're asking a somewhat aligned question: "Do you maintain a storage unit at one of those lock-up places that is not on your property? Got any interesting 'stuff' stored there?" Put STORAGE in the subject line and send to firstname.lastname@example.org via the Internet.
RESULTS OF QUESTION NO. 257 (COURTESY)
Last week we asked your appraisal of the way common courtesy is waning. Here is a sampling of the ton of replies we received: First of all a great number of people wrote to say that it's not just kids who have no manners. Diane says that last fall a man and woman in their 30s knocked her to the ground while they were trying to go through a door. "Rather than apologize," she writes, "they acted as if it was my fault for getting in their way. The guy actually made a snide comment ... as he walked off. I called him on it and he was dumbfounded that I was brave enough to say something." Good for you, Diane. She also reports on a person she saw taking cookies from a bin without using tongs. SJ says that at least in the South men still open doors for women. In that part of the country, she writes, they still teach manners. Cindy is even more critical than Diane was. "I don't think (manners) exist even in older people. I am a newspaper distributor and I carry two bundles into stores and will always have people let the door slam in my face." Janet says she loves the concept of holding the door. "Even though I am a female," she notes, "I will hold the door for someone, male or female, rather than letting it close." Jackie says, as I have also sensed, that courtesy is somewhat better in the wake of 9/11. Gayle says that "rudeness" is degenerating into "meanness." Kathy has the painful job of teaching junior high school-aged kids and says she tries to tell them that courtesy PAYS. Personally, I wish some of today's kids would have to sit through 12 years of nuns and watched TV shows that repeatedly told us to say PLEASE and THANK YOU. GBA.