Hartford Music Company and Hartford Music Institute
The Hartford Music Company, located in Hartford (Sebastian County), was founded in 1918 by Eugene Monroe (E. M.) Bartlett, a businessman from Waynesville, Missouri, who wanted to publish gospel music. Specifically, he was interested in teaching people how to sight read a song, using shape notes, which would enable them to read music and sing with or without an instrument. Hartford was the perfect location for a gospel music company; the railroad ran east and west through town, with connecting rails all over the United States, thus allowing the easy transport of paper and supplies as well as students.
Bartlett, president of the Hartford Music Company, printed from electrotype plates for his songbooks, published semiannually. The books were shipped all over the United States and were used at singing conventions and schools. Training schools, or “normals,” were held twice a year at Hartford to teach the shape-note style, which uses an assigned shape for each tone on an eight-note scale. This made it easier for the average person to read music.
The forerunner of the Hartford Music Company was the Central Music Company, owned by songwriter Will M. Ramsey and David Moore. Moore was a lifetime resident of Hartford who also owned the David Moore Store, selling organs, pianos, phonographs, and other musical instruments, along with music books, especially gospel. When Ramsey moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1918, Bartlett persuaded Moore and John A. McClung to partner with him in establishing the Hartford Music Company, with Moore as business manager. The companies merged in 1931 under the Hartford name, with Moore as business manager. By 1931, the company was printing and shipping more than 100,000 books a year to thirty-five states and two foreign countries. A branch plant was established in Nacogdoches, Texas, where 20,000 books were published each year. Other branches were in Fort Smith (Sebastian County); Powell, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Cullman, Alabama; and Houston, Texas. The company used more than 80,000 pounds of paper in these books, making it one of the state’s largest publishing companies.
Bartlett sold only 15,000 copies his first year. The usual price was twenty-five cents. He wrote most of the songs, though familiar hymns were added as fillers or by popular request. His most famous song that is still published today is “Victory in Jesus.” Bartlett formed the Hartford Music Institute to coincide with the Hartford Music Company, hiring instructors to teach voice, piano, piano tuning, rudiments, harmony, and stringed instruments.
When Bartlett retired in 1931, John McClung became president and sole owner of the company. He had co-owned it in the 1920s and bought it outright on February 20, 1931. He authored a number of songs, including “Just a Rose Will Do,” “Death Will Never Knock on Heaven’s Door,” and “Standing Outside.” Bartlett and McClung taught singing schools all over Arkansas as well as in Illinois, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Kansas.
After McClung died in 1942, the company was sold to Floyd Hunter, Waldo Pool, Otis Echols, and Oliver Cooper, who moved it to Hot Springs (Garland County). Albert E. Brumley (who wrote “I’ll Meet You in the Morning” and “I’ll Fly Away”) bought the company in 1948 and moved it to Powell, Missouri, where it is today as a part of the Brumley Music Company.
The Hartford Music Company was one of many such publishing companies in the first half of the twentieth century. The schools they held provided an outlet for their songs and easy access to “new” gospel music. Only a few remain, yet “convention style singing” is prevalent in many locations in Arkansas.
For additional information:
Crouch, Mary. Music from the Hills and Valleys. Hartford, AR: 2000.
Deller, David. “The Songbook Gospel Movement in Arkansas: E. M. Bartlett and the Hartford Music Company.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 60 (Autumn 2001): 284–300.
Hartford Music Company Collection. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
T. J. (McClung) Gibson
Van Buren, Arkansas
John R. Way
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I was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1948. My 85-year-old mother used to sing for the Hartford Music Company in the late 1930s and into the war years. Ellen Evalena Sampson (now Stogner) sang with the Panama Harmonetts, a young womens gospel quartet from Panama, Oklahoma. They traveled for singing conventions and revivals around eastern Oklahoma and into Arkansas. Moma recalls the accommodations for the singers, e.g., Baptist pallets, laid out on the floor for the girls. Mother tells how the Harmonetts were once singing in a country schoolhouse near Pocola, when, after dinner, an old chicken came strutting down the center aisle toward altar call with a wishbone in her beak. Moma broke out laughing in the middle of the song, and everybody else did, too. The Harmonetts mostly sang the Hartford Music Co. songs; Moma and I have a lot of old song books (what a treasure!). The Harmonetts also sang from Fort Smith on KFPW, each Friday afternoon at 4:15, and they sang from the Goldman Hotel. Moma remembers working with Mr. McClung at Hartford. She attended his funeral, where Wynema Longmaybe the eldest, but certainly the tallest, Harmonettwalked down the aisle and placed a rose in his coffin, while they were singing his song Just a Rose Will Do. Everybody cried. Moma has a handbill of the Harmonetts from that period with all their photos (Wynema Long, Ruby Corn, La Jean Cureton, and Evalena Sampson, manager, O. E. Long). My Uncle Jess and Aunt Bea were ministers in Arkansas most of their lives. I have a recording of them singing Albert Brumleys I Will Meet You in the Morning. It is a window into our own history to hear these songs, especially sung by those who went before us.
The forerunner of Hartford Music was indeed Central Music Company, but it was in Hartford until 1913, with William Morgan Ramsey helping Mr. Moore operate Central Music in Hartford. In 1913, William Morgan Ramsey purchased Central Music from Mr. Moore and moved it to Little Rock, Arkansas, where it remained until 1939 when Mr. Ramsey died. E. M. Bartlett was a music student of Will M. Ramsey in Hartford before it moved to Little Rock. E. M. Bartlett and V. O. Stamps were students and pallbearers at Will M. Ramsey’s funeral in 1939 in Little Rock.
As a teen, in June of 1945, I attended the Hartford Music School held at Oaklawn Baptist Church in Hot Springs (Garland County). A few years ago, I was passing through that area and took time to look for the site where the school was held. I finally found the location and on its spot now stands a new Oaklawn Baptist Church. I will never forgot those three weeks I spent, boarding in someone’s home and attending the school as a fourteen year old.