E. M. Bartlett (1883–1941)
aka: Eugene Monroe Bartlett Sr.
With the exception of his protégé, Albert E. Brumley, no other Arkansas figure contributed more to the development of the Southern gospel music genre than singer, songwriter, and publisher Eugene Monroe Bartlett Sr.
E. M. Bartlett was born on December 24, 1883, in the small community of Waynesville, Missouri, according to Barlett’s World War I draft card, though historians have variously placed his year of birth in 1884 and 1885. He and his parents eventually relocated to Sebastian County, Arkansas. Educated at the Hall-Moody Institute in Martin, Tennessee, and William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, Bartlett received training as a music teacher.
In 1917, Bartlett married Joan Tatum; they had two children.
As an aspiring songwriter, Bartlett became an employee of the Central Music Company, a publisher of shape-note singing convention books based in Hartford (Sebastian County), which was owned by shape-note singing school instructor David Moore and songwriter Will M. Ramsey. Following Ramsey’s move to Little Rock (Pulaski County), Bartlett persuaded Moore and John A. McClung to partner with him in 1918 to establish the Hartford Music Company, one of Southern gospel’s first significant publishing companies. The company published some of Bartlett’s first compositions as well as other early Southern gospel songs, including McClung’s popular “Just a Rose Will Do.” From Hartford Music’s inception to 1935, Bartlett served as the company’s president, facilitating its expansion to include branch offices in other cities and states.
In addition to the Hartford Music Company’s music publishing interests, Bartlett established the Hartford Music Institute, a shape-note school, in 1921, and began publishing The Herald of Song, a monthly magazine covering the quartets Hartford sponsored to promote its products. Albert E. Brumley, the best-known Southern gospel songwriter of all time, attended the Hartford school in 1926 courtesy of Bartlett’s financial generosity. Bartlett mentored Brumley, published his first songs, and eventually employed him at Hartford Music.
A diverse songwriter, Bartlett penned singing convention favorites such as “Everybody Will Be Happy Over There” and “Just a Little While,” songs that were popularized by the leading gospel music quartets of the day, including Hovie Lister & the Statesmen, the Stamps Quartet, the Blackwood Brothers, and the Blue Ridge Quartet. In an era in which the exchange of music between white and black recording artists and writers generally benefitted white artists and black writers the most, Bartlett’s song “He Will Remember Me” was recorded by at least two important African-American gospel groups, the Sensational Nightingales and the Staple Singers, as well as black gospel legend Albertina Walker. Revealing his sense of humor, Bartlett also produced light-hearted fare such as “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” and “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait,” a country music hit for Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens.
In 1939, a stroke rendered Bartlett partially paralyzed and unable to perform or travel. Amid such bleak circumstances, he wrote his final and most beloved song, “Victory in Jesus,” an optimistic number that has been sung by millions in worship services and recorded by gospel’s biggest names.
Bartlett died on January 25, 1941. He is buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Siloam Springs (Benton County). Posthumously, Bartlett was inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1973.
For additional information:
Collins, Ace. Turn Your Radio On: The Stories Behind Gospel Music’s All-time Greatest Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.
Deller, David. “The Songbook Gospel Movement in Arkansas: E. M. Bartlett and the Hartford Music Company.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 60 (Autumn 2001): 284–300.
Goff, James R., Jr. Close Harmony: A History of Southern Gospel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
My grandmother, Frances Gray, passed away on January 23rd of this year…her 94th birthday. My grandfather, Pershing Gray, purchased E. M. Bartlett’s house and music academy after his death in 1941. The home was renovated in 1976, and this is where she lived until her death. I have inherited the property, located in Pocola, Oklahoma, and live across the street.
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