The beloved evangelist J. Bazzel Mull passed away on September 5, 2006 at age ninety-one. In case that you missed this article recalling Mull's Singing Convention, we bring it to you one more time in memory of Rev. Mull.
When I was growing up, there were some television programs which my father never missed. On Wednesday night, it was the TV western “The Virginian.” Monday through Friday, it was the local news with Mort Lloyd, John Gray, and Don Fischer. On Saturday, usually around noon following cartoons and often preceding the NCAA football game, it was Mull’s Singing Convention.
The Mull’s Singing Convention was hosted by Rev. Jacob Bazzel, usually called “J. Bazzel,” Mull and his wife, Elizabeth, called “Lady Mull” by Rev. Mull. With a voice made raspy by years of itinerant preaching, Rev. Mull welcomed viewers each week and read the commercials. With a “Who do we have coming up next on the program, Lady Mull?” lead-in, he turned to Mrs. Mull to introduce the next of a series of numbers sung by the gospel quartets of the day.
According to the Web site (www.praise963.com) of one of four gospel music stations that the Mulls now own, Rev. J. Bazzel Mull was born in 1914 in Burke County, North Carolina. He was born into a gospel music family, and was the grandson of a circuit riding minister.
A childhood accident left him legally blind, and he only finished school through the third grade but that didn’t stop him from pursuing a career as an evangelist. He began a radio program in Knoxville in 1942, and in 1944, married the love of his life, Elizabeth Brown, whom he had met at a church revival in Lenoir City.
The Mulls started their gospel music television program on WRGP Channel 3 shortly after the station signed on in 1956. They moved to the new WTVC Channel 9 when it hit the air waves in 1959, and remained a part of the weekend line-up there for many years.
The gospel groups had to perform live in the studio in the early days. I remember that the Mulls later switched to black-and-white film, followed by color video tape.
Sponsors of the Mull’s Singing Convention included JFG Coffee and the Soddy Men’s Shop “where every day is bargain day, and our slogan is buy a bargain, sell a bargain.” Rev. Mull also sold records on the air of the groups which performed on the show. He would frequently ask his wife to back up a statement he had just made about a sponsor by turning to her and asking, “Ain’t that right, Lady Mull?”
The Mull’s Singing Convention often moved from the studio to live events at the Chattanooga’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium. A lengthy list of gospel groups was on each program, which frequently extended well into the night like the all-night singings held at many churches. If either Mull’s or Harry Thornton’s wrestling was on the card at the auditorium, parking was guaranteed to be hard to find.
Though the Mulls have not been on television in Chattanooga in many years, they have continued their program in Knoxville as well as clear-channel AM stations which reach listeners across the country.
In the spirit of Rev. J. Bazzel Mull, here’s a brief history of a couple of the groups which were often on the Singing Convention.
Rev. Mull: “So who do we have up next on the program, Lady Mull?”
Mrs. Mull: “We have the Speer Family followed by the Blackwood Brothers.”
Rev. Mull: “That will be some fine music, ain’t that right, Lady Mull?”
From the Speer Family’s Web site (http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Bluffs/2986)
The Speer Family was established in 1921. The original members included G.T. (Dad) Speer, Lena (Mom) Speer, Dad Speer's sister and brother-in-law. When the original group was formed, Dad Speer taught in Singing Schools, upholding his infamous image for being a "stickler" for singing every note exactly correct! By the 1930's, Mom and Dad Speer were traveling as a family group with their own children. As the children would mature, their duties would change: Brock became the bass, Mary Tom sang alto, Ben took the lead and Rosa Nell served as pianist.
As a personal note, one of my favorite memories of a brush with greatness is that I met Brock Speer backstage when I was singing with the Provident Chorus. The Speer Family followed us on stage at Riverbend.
From the Blackwood Brothers’ Web site (http://blackwoodbrothers.com/History.html).
The Blackwood Brothers formed in 1934 in Choctaw County, Mississippi. The original members were brothers Doyle Blackwood, James Blackwood, Roy Blackwood and his son, R. W. Blackwood.
In June 1954, the Blackwood Brothers Quartet appeared on the "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" show on television. They won the competition with their stirring rendition of "The Man Upstairs."
Two weeks after the Arthur Godfrey appearance, two of the Blackwood Brothers, R. W. Blackwood and Bill Lyles, were both killed in a plane crash in Clanton, Alabama. The surviving Blackwoods regrouped adding R. W.'s younger brother, Cecil, to sing baritone and J. D. Sumner, singing bass.
In 1956, James Blackwood, Cecil Blackwood and J. D. Sumner organized the first National Quartet Convention which still exists today and is held in Louisville, KY.
The Blackwood Brothers introduced the first customized tour bus. A replica of their bus is on display in the Southern Gospel Music Hall Of Fame at Dollywood.
Another personal note – if you’re a fan of southern gospel, the museum at Dollywood is worth your trip.
If you have memories of the Mull’s Singing Convention, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Speer Family often sang on Mull's Singing Convention. Click to enlarge.