The Herald Bulletin

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May 18, 2013

Gaither chronicles history of gospel music industry

ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — Bill Gaither’s interest in the gospel music industry goes far beyond lining up behind a microphone on the weekends. A historian at heart, he has assembled file cabinets full of memorabilia on the pioneers in the field.

I had occasion to peruse the collection recently, learning some of the background of the pioneers of what became known as Southern gospel music as well as black gospel. As I looked over the material, Bill played recorded clips from some early groups such as the Rangers and the Stamps. Of note is the fact that in their concerts they often mixed pop and gospel numbers, giving a definite entertainment element to their craft in years before gospel performers concentrated almost exclusively on religious selections.

One book, “The Music Men” by Bob Terrell, chronicles important names in the history of gospel, including the Vaughans, Stamps, Blackwood Brothers, Fowlers, Speers, LeFevres, Listers, Carters and McCoys.

Another, “The Gospel Sound” by Anthony Heilbert, follows black gospel. Some of the top early names in that realm were Sallie Martin, Thomas A. Dorsey, the Dixie Hummingbirds, Mahalia Jackson and the Soul Stirrers.

Singing schools were prevalent in the South as early as the 1880s. James D. Vaughan formed the first professional white gospel quartet in 1910, and he used it to promote his songbook publications. One of those coming out of that background, Virgil O. Stamps, eventually went out on his own and followed Vaughan’s example as he formed the Stamps-Baxter Music Co.

The first Stamps Quartet was composed of Carl Jordan, Bill and Zeke Kitts and Virgil’s brother, Frank Stamps. Later Otis Deaton joined the group.

One early Stamps Quartet was composed of Jim Gaither (apparently no relation to Bill), Walter Rippetoe, Bob Bacon and V.O. Stamps, with Marion Snider on piano.

Radio was becoming an important medium for exposure of aspiring musical performers, and gospel musicians got on board quickly. V.O. Stamps purchased radio station KRLD in Dallas, which became a flagship for gospel singers.

V.O. Stamps became prominent in Texas and at one time was urged to run for governor. However, health problems cut short his lifespan and he died of a stroke at age 47.

The collection includes a picture of the original Statesmen: Bervin Kendricks, Hovie Lister, Mosie Lister, Acel Soward and Bobby Strickland. Of those, only Mosie Lister is still living.

Gaither has a copy of a doctoral dissertation by Rebecca L. Folson, “A Brief History of White Southern Gospel Music as Seen Through the Career of Dwight Moody Brock.” It explores at length the background of gospel music, the history of shaped notes, the singing school tradition, revival movement, all-day singings and the life of Brock, a brother of Lena “Mom” Speer of the Speer Family.

For Gaither, there’s a lot more behind the music than what you see during a concert on Saturday night.

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

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