Jeffress/Phillips Music Company
The Jeffress/Phillips Music Company, located in Crossett (Ashley County), is one of the five remaining seven-shape gospel publishing companies in the United States and is the sole seven-shape gospel publisher in the state of Arkansas.
While known best as a rural tradition, shape notes, sometimes referred to as character or patent notes, are visual cues that act as points of reference, creating a unique notational style composed of geometric figures. This teaching mechanism led to the development of a rich and varied canon of American folk hymnody notated and practiced in shape notes, of which seven-shape gospel music comprises one specific tradition.
Successor to the Jeffress Music Company, Jeffress/Phillips Music is a family-run operation. William Nolin Jeffress, founder of the original Jeffress Music Company, studied the rudiments of music theory and composition at the Hartford Music Institute and began his shape-note publishing career with the Hartford Music Company in Hartford (Sebastian County). After establishing the Jeffress Music Company in 1944, Jeffress published his first songbook, Holy Light: A Book of Gospel Songs for Conventions, Churches, Schools, Etc., on January 19, 1945. Jeffress led the company with his wife, Essye DhuAn Estelle, until her death in 1974. In 1975, he married Audie Lindsey and continued to run the publishing company until his death in 1985. Jeffress’s widow led the company until her death in 1996, at which point Jeffress’s nephew, Marty Phillips, reorganized the company as Jeffress/Phillips Music.
Jeffress/Phillips Music publishes an annual songbook of new seven-shape gospel compositions. Phillips learned the trade of shape-note composing and publishing from his uncle and began typesetting the annually published songbooks at age twelve. After receiving a degree in business from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1973, Phillips continued to work for the company; his wife, Ann, began to work in the business when they married in 1974.
In addition to publishing a yearly songbook that is sold throughout Arkansas and the southeastern region of the United States, the company has long contributed to the singing school community in Arkansas. The Jeffress School of Gospel Music is hosted each summer at Beech Street Baptist Church in Crossett. The singing school is primarily staffed by members of the Jeffress and Phillips families, including siblings of William Nolin Jeffress and their offspring. The school offers instruction to both beginning and advanced students, including courses in basic and intermediate rudiments, advanced harmony and songwriting, directing, and sight singing, as well as private instruction in voice, guitar, and piano. In 1999, Marty and Ann Phillips and Trisha Watts published Rudiments of Music: A Complete Study of the Basics of Music from Definitions of Musical Terms to a Summation of Key Signatures for use in the Jeffress School of Gospel Music and in other singing schools around the country. In 2004, the Phillipses collaborated on another teaching tool, Understanding Four-Part Harmony: A Simplified Concept of the Art of Harmonizing Music: Done So Through the Use of Shape and Round Notation.
In 2000, Jeffress/Phillips Music began publishing a quarterly newsletter, The Good News, which was later renamed What’s Happening. This newsletter has more than 130 subscribers across ten states. Marty and Ann Phillips travel widely each summer to teach at singing schools across the region. Their work at singing schools in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina helps sustain the tradition of seven-shape gospel music within Arkansas and the greater southeastern region of the United States.
For additional information:
Deller, David. “The Songbook Gospel Movement in Arkansas: E. M. Bartlett and the Hartford Music Company.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 60 (Autumn 2001): 284–300.
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