Gospel

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Entry Category: Gospel

Bartlett, E. M.

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 …

Brockwell Gospel Music School

The Brockwell Gospel Music School offers instruction in choral and instrumental musical techniques for those who desire the improvement of church music. It operates every summer on a small campus in Brockwell (Izard County) at the intersection of State Highways 9 and 56. It was founded in 1947 as the Brockwell Music School, assumed its present name in 1962, and operates at its original site. The singing-school tradition goes back to the time of the Second Great Awakening on the American frontier in the first years of the nineteenth century. This tradition contributed significantly to the growth and power of the great revivals that especially captivated gospel-hungry settlers in the frontier South in the first third of the century. Itinerant …

Brumley, Albert Edward

Albert Edward Brumley Sr. was one of the most successful American gospel song composers of the twentieth century, penning such standards as “I’ll Fly Away,” “I’ll Meet You in the Morning,” “If We Never Meet Again,” “Turn Your Radio On,” and many others. Between 1926 and 1931, he studied, lived, and worked at the Hartford Music Company in Hartford (Sebastian County) under the tutelage of its founder, Eugene Monroe (E. M.) Bartlett. Although Bartlett died in 1941, Brumley forever credited him as the chief mentor and inspiration behind his music and eventually purchased the Hartford Music Company in 1948. Albert E. Brumley was born on October 29, 1905, in Indian Territory near present-day Spiro, Oklahoma. His parents, William Sherman Brumley …

Crumpler, Denver Dale

When singer Denver Dale Crumpler became a member of Hovie Lister and the Statesmen Quartet of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1953, his Irish tenor voice completed what many experts in the Southern gospel music field have termed “The Perfect Quartet.” By then, the Statesmen had formed a team with the famed Blackwood Brothers Quartet of Memphis, Tennessee, and were performing 250–300 concerts per year across the United States. Shortly after Crumpler’s arrival, the Statesmen signed a recording contract with RCA-Victor, as well as a contract with Nabisco as the sponsor of a syndicated television show eventually to be seen on about 150 television stations around the nation. Denver Dale Crumpler was born on August 17, 1912, in Village (Columbia County), near …

Evans, Dale

aka: Frances Octavia Smith
Dale Evans was an actress, author, and songwriter who was raised in Osceola (Mississippi County), where she attended school for the first time and met her first husband. She rose to fame as America’s “Queen of the West” (sometimes called “Queen of the Cowgirls”) alongside her fourth husband, Roy Rogers (“King of the Cowboys”). She starred in movies, television shows, and evangelical Christian programs. Evans wrote twenty-eight inspirational books and composed many songs, including the popular song of faith, “The Bible Tells Me So,” as well as the iconic American standard, “Happy Trails.” Dale Evans was born in her grandparents’ home at Uvalde, Texas, though her family lived in Italy, Texas. Her father, Walter Smith, was a middle-class farmer who …

Gladys McFadden and the Loving Sisters

Gladys McFadden and the Loving Sisters were an African-American gospel group based in Little Rock (Pulaski County). At its artistic peak in the 1970s, the group’s adventurous, contemporary style put its sound outside the realm of traditional gospel music. The group—which included McFadden as well as Jo Dumas, Ann James, and Lorraine Leeks—was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2003. Gladys McFadden was born on September 10, 1934, in Little Rock. Her father, Aaron Williams, was a pastor, and her mother coached their church choir. McFadden sang in that choir until age nine, when she founded a group she christened the Loving Sisters, as the group included one of McFadden’s sisters, as well as a friend who …

Gospel Music

Musicologists and journalists have often provided conflicting definitions of the term “gospel music.” Early African-American gospel was a blend of nineteenth-century hymns, spirituals, field songs, ragtime, and blues, while the religious music performed by white artists—an obvious antecedent to what would be labeled Southern gospel—incorporated folk, traditional hymns, and singing convention standards. Today’s Christian music is often categorized by genre, reflecting the social, racial, ideological, and generational diversity of the Christian community. This diversity is shown in a contrast of pervading traditions, varied approaches to lyric writing, and stylistic exchanges between the sacred and secular. Throughout the evolution of gospel music, Arkansas has remained at the forefront, producing noteworthy pioneers of yesterday and molding trendsetters of today. Several key figures …

Green, Al

Al Green is one of Arkansas’s best-known singers, with a career that has ranged from rhythm and blues (R&B) to pop to gospel and a combination. Green’s distinctive falsetto singing style continues to thrill fans old and young, and he remains an active soul singer from an era that also produced Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Marvin Gaye. Al Greene (he later dropped the last “e”) was born on April 13, 1946, in Forrest City (St. Francis County) and grew up in a large family that sang gospel music. When his sharecropper father moved the family to Grand Rapids, Michigan, Green was only nine but sang with his siblings in the Green Brothers. When he began listening to the non-gospel …

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 …

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 …

Jones, Willa Saunders

Willa Saunders Jones grew up in Little Rock (Pulaski County) during the first decades of the twentieth century before moving to Chicago, Illinois, where she became a prominent religious and cultural leader. Her crowning achievement was a passion play (a dramatization of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection), which she wrote in the 1920s and produced for more than five decades in churches and eventually prestigious civic theaters. The play featured top musical talent, including Dinah Washington and Jones’s close friend Mahalia Jackson, and drew support from such prominent figures as the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. and Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley. Her success in music as a soloist, accompanist, and choral director and in drama stemmed from early experiences in …

Martin, Roberta Evelyn

aka: Roberta Evelyn Winston Martin Austin
Roberta Evelyn Winston Martin Austin was one of the most significant figures during gospel music’s golden age (1945–1960). A performer and publisher, she reached iconic status in Chicago, Illinois, where she influenced numerous artists (such as Alex Bradford, James Cleveland, and Albertina Walker) and had an impact on an entire industry with her innovation and business acumen. Roberta Evelyn Winston was born in Helena (Phillips County) on February 12, 1907, one of six children of William and Anna Winston, proprietors of a general store. She began studying piano at age six. Her family relocated to Cairo, Illinois, before she was ten, after arriving in Chicago in 1917, Winston played for various church functions, working with Thomas A. Dorsey, the “Father …

Melody Boys Quartet

The Melody Boys Quartet was a Southern gospel music group based in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The Melody Boys Quartet officially disbanded on December 31, 2012, at the end of the group’s “Exit 63” tour, celebrating sixty-three years together. The group had its origins in the late 1930s when Herschel Foshee, aided by Joe Roper, created the Stamps-Baxter Quartet. The group was named after the music publishing company founded by V. O. Stamps and J. R. Baxter in 1926; the publisher was established in Texas but later opened an office in Pangburn (White County). The quartet’s original purpose was to sing and record the company’s publications exactly as printed and thus aid in selling Stamps-Baxter songbooks to interested musical groups …

Norful, Smokie

aka: Willie Ray Norful Jr.
Smokie Norful—a popular pastor in Chicago, Illinois, and a Grammy Award–winning gospel singer—spent most of his developing years in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and is one of the most commercially successful gospel recording artists to have emerged from Arkansas. Born Willie Ray Norful Jr. in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on October 31, 1975, to the Reverend W. R. Norful and Teresa Norful, Norful is the oldest of three boys. Like so many other African-American gospel singers, he found church to be a nurturing environment in which his musical skills could be honed. At a 2012 taping of the Trinity Broadcast Network’s flagship program, Praise the Lord, Norful joked before a studio audience about growing up as a “P. K.” (preacher’s kid) …

Old Folks’ Singing

What became known as Old Folks’ Singing started on May 17, 1885, with the dedication of a new Methodist church and cemetery in Tull (Grant County). The event was multi-denominational, with the entire community participating in the singing and midday dinner. The annual event, which celebrated its 125-year anniversary in 2010, is held in Tull at the Ebenezer United Methodist Church on the third Sunday in May. It is believed to be the oldest continuous singing day held west of the Mississippi River. While the shape-note system of learning music is no longer part of Old Folks’ Singing, the musical heritage of the event can be traced back to the shape-note singing popular in New England and moving to rural …

Paris, Twila

aka: Twila Inez Paris Wright
Twila Inez Paris Wright is a prolific contemporary Christian singer, songwriter, pianist, and author who lives in Fayetteville (Washington County). She is the winner of ten Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Awards and three American Songwriter Awards and has hundreds of published and recorded songs to her credit. Hymns and choruses she has composed have appeared in such widely varying hymn collections as the United Methodist Hymnal and the Baptist Hymnal, as well as those of various Pentecostal and non-denominational churches. Twila Paris was born on December 28, 1958, in Fort Worth, Texas, one of four children of Oren Paris II, the founder of Youth With A Mission ministries and Ecclesia College in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties), and Rachel …

Point of Grace

Point of Grace, which originated in Arkadelphia (Clark County) in 1990, is a female vocal trio—formerly a quartet—that sings contemporary Christian music. Three of the singers in Point of Grace—Denise Jones, Heather Floyd, and Terry Lang—were life-long friends from Norman, Oklahoma. They had sung together in their church choir and school musicals. The trio enrolled at Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia in 1988. While singing in the “Ouachitones,” an OBU-sponsored group, they met fellow student Shelley Phillips from North Little Rock (Pulaski County), and in 1991, they formed a quartet. Originally, the four named themselves Sayso from a biblical verse in Psalms: “Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so.” The quartet began singing at local churches, retreats, and other …

Presley, Luther G.

Luther G. Presley was a music teacher, song director, and prolific writer of gospel songs who has been credited with writing more than 1,100 hymns. His best-known song is most likely “When the Saints Go Marching In,” for which he wrote the lyrics in 1937 (the melody was written by Virgil O. Stamps). Luther Presley was born in Faulkner County on March 6, 1887, to James Thomas Presley and Nancy Ann Brooks Presley. He was educated in Faulkner County’s public schools. Presley attended his first singing school at the age of fourteen, under the direction of M. W. Beckett, and taught at his first singing school at the age of eighteen. Presley continued his musical education, and according to a 2005 …

Raney, Wayne

Wayne Raney was an American country singer and harmonica player best known for his hit song “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me.” Raney, along with fellow Arkansan Lonnie Glosson, played a major role in making the harmonica a popular instrument through their musical performances as well as through their mail-order harmonica business. Wayne Raney was born on August 17, 1921, on a farm near Wolf Bayou (Cleburne County), the youngest of five children of William Franklin (Frank) Raney and Bonnie Davis Raney. Due to a foot deformity, he could not do heavy labor. Instead, he pursued an interest in music, learning to play harmonica at an early age. He was drawn to the harmonica after hearing a street performer …

Shape-Note Singing

Shape-note singing is a choral tradition in which geometrical shapes and a corresponding syllable are assigned to each note in a musical scale. The tradition began in late eighteenth-century New England, and it is one of the earliest forms of distinctly American music. In Arkansas, shape notes are found in multiple singing traditions, including both the four- and seven-note methods. This type of singing also had a social role in rural communities in Arkansas, which often held all-day events featuring shape-note singing. Shape-note singing is largely used for religious music, although it does occasionally appear in secular music. Conventional shape-note singing preserves elements of earlier European music, such as basic harmony, melodies, and performance practices. Shape notes were developed in …

Sundown to Sunup Gospel Sing

aka: Albert E. Brumley Memorial Gospel Sing
The Sundown to Sunup Gospel Sing, an outdoor gospel music event, was held on the first weekend in August in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties) starting in 1969. During that time, the event was billed as the “largest outdoor gospel sing.” It was later named for its founder, gospel songwriter Albert Edward Brumley of Powell, Missouri, who penned such well-known songs as “I’ll Fly Away” and “Turn Your Radio On.” The idea for the Sundown to Sunup Gospel Sing was conceived after a gospel singing event in Bentonville (Benton County) in 1968. Brumley and his sons, Bill and Bob, worked with Springdale Chamber of Commerce president Lee Zachary to bring the event to Springdale’s Parsons Stadium in 1969. That first year, …

Talbot, John Michael

John Michael Talbot—the founder and leader of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage near Eureka Springs (Carroll County)—is one of the preeminent Catholic musicians in the world, with more than fifty albums to his name. He is also the founder of the Catholic Association of Musicians and the author of more than a dozen books on Christian meditations and music. John Michael Talbot was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on May 8, 1954, to Jamie Margaret (Cochran) Talbot and Richard Talbot. The family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) when Talbot was seven years old and then to Indianapolis, Indiana, two years later. Struggling to make friends in Indianapolis, the family started playing music as …

Tharpe, “Sister Rosetta”

aka: Rosetta Nubin Tharpe
Arkansas native Rosetta Nubin Tharpe was one of gospel music’s first superstars, the first gospel performer to record for a major record label (Decca), and an early crossover from gospel to secular music. Tharpe has been cited as an influence by numerous musicians, including Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Arkansan Johnny Cash. Rosetta Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant (Woodruff County) on March 20, 1915, to Katie Bell Nubin Atkins—an evangelist, singer, and mandolin player for the Church of God in Christ (COGIC)—and Willis Atkins. She went by the first names Rosa, Rosie Etta, and Rosabell, and used both her father’s last name and her mother’s maiden name, Nubin. She began performing at age four, playing guitar and singing …

Williams, J. Paul

J. Paul Williams made notable contributions to the field of church music. His catalog of published lyrics exceeds 925 songs, running the gamut of sacred and secular texts. A leader of choral clinics and composer symposiums, he was also a member of the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP). James Paul Williams was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 29, 1937. He was the only child of Ferris Woodrow Williams (a taxi driver) and Violet Simonton Williams (a bank supervisor). He was a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Oklahoma City until he left for college. Williams admired the church’s minister of music, and he decided to pursue that career, even though he had never had a …