Jack Marshall

Here we take note of one more piano player who was not only an early influence on Rock & Roll Music in the 1950s, but also an influence on any piano player who ever heard him play.

Jack Marshall was born near Holt, Alabama, in Tuscaloosa County, in the year 1930. His mother insisted that he take piano lessons. He began to learn piano at age 5. By his 12th birthday, he had earned a reputation as a terrific piano player. He graduated from Holt High Scholl in 1949 and immediately moved to Memphis to be the piano player for the Hartford Southern Gospel Quartet. He accompanied the Hartford Quartet, creating a sensation whenever he played. In 1950, the Blackwood Brothers Quartet moved from Iowa to Memphis. After they heard Marshall play, they came calling with an offer for Marshall to join as their piano player. He accepted. James Blackwood: “The news got to us as soon as we moved to Memphis that this little 20 year old kid was the best piano player in Memphis. The news was accurate. All we had to do was listen to three or four bars. He could really tear up a piano. He was fantastic”.

Marshall was also a perfectionist who, while touring and recording with the Blackwoods throughout the 1950s, would also practice 6 hours a day. He became a close personal friend of the Presley family. In 1958, he was the pianist at the memorial services for Gladys Presley, Elvis’ mother. Marshall was her favorite. She considered him the greatest piano player in the world. At her services, Marshall played “Rock of Ages”, “I Am Redeemed”, “Precious Lord Take My Hand”, “In the Garden”, and “Precious Memories”.

He left the Blackwood Brothers in 1959 but remained in Memphis as the owner and operator of a music store. He also owned and operated a recording studio and a record label. At Elvis’ request, Marshall tracked down a 1912 Knabe piano that had been for decades the house piano at Memphis’ Ellis Auditorium. The instrument had been played frequently not only by Marshall, but also by W.C. Handy, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and many others. After purchasing the piano, Marshall sold it to Elvis for $818.85. It remains at Graceland today.

Between 1960 and 1980, Marshall began buying Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises and opening KFC restaurants. He opened the first KFC restaurants in Alabama. At one time Marshall owned 52 KFC franchises. Around 1980 Marshall moved back to Tuscaloosa. He composed and arranged for the U. of A. Million Dollar Band. He played for friends, relatives and at his church.

Around 2000 Marshall was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He gradually lost the ability to play his instrument. He died at age 88 on August 27, 2018.

We have selected two Blackwood Brothers records from the early 1950s that feature Marshall’s hard driving Gospel Boogie rhythm.
Rock on!

Gloryland Jubilee-Blackwood Brothers Quartet-RCA Victor 78 rpm 20-5498 (1953)
I’m Feelin’ Fine-Blackwood Brothers Quartet-RCA Victor 78 rpm 20-5709 (1954)

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