THE HISTORIC STAMPS-BAXTER SINGING SCHOOL

One of the most asked questions as I have traveled all over the world playing and singing is this, “How do I get
started in Christian music?”

That was the same question I kept asking as a teenager. In fact, I distinctly remember writing that question during my
senior year in high school in a letter to the Lone Star Quartet. In response, I received a letter from Frank H. Stamps,
of the famous Stamps-Baxter Music & Printing Company of Dallas, Texas.

He told me of two three-week singing school “normals” they held each year. The largest one was scheduled for June
in Dallas. The smaller one would be during January in Chattanooga. From that moment I made plans, saved money
and made plans to make my big splash in gospel music.

By the time the school arrived, I had purchased many of the songbooks published by Stamps-Baxter. I practiced until
I could play and sing most of the songs. I just knew I would get discovered.

What I discovered was the hard and cold fact that I wasn’t ready. Not even close!

TENNESSEE DREAMS
I arrived in Chattanooga soon after New Year’s Day 1945, a few days before the school was scheduled to start. I was
first in line to register and get settled into the boarding house for the three-week stay. In those days many churches
were involved in the gospel singing school. They used the music and taught the choir members to read music and
sing. In Chattanooga, the school was held in a Baptist church. The pastor and choir director provided about two-
thirds of the room and board for students and teachers.

All the teachers were full time in the gospel music field. Most had considerable experience with local or regional
groups, and some taught in the singing schools for their living.

I was delighted to learn that my piano teacher would be Hershall Collins, the popular pianist for the Lone Star
Quartet, one of my favorites.  My voice teacher was W. W. Combs, one of the best in the South. Other teachers
included Rosa Nell Speer of the Singing Speer Family. Other teachers focused on theory, harmony and sight reading
classes. Also, a beginner course in piano tuning was provided.

Every day, in addition to the morning devotions and classes, there were times that students were given the
opportunity to show their talents and gain experience. It was during these times that I realized that the big splash I
had hoped to make was hardly a ripple. I was surrounded by so much talent!

I stuck with it, though, trying to enjoy every part of the school. I got to meet amazing people who were part of the
school. Rev. Vep Ellis, writer of such classics as "Do You Know My Jesus?" was there. So was Shorty Bradford, an
established figure in big-time quartet circles. I soaked it all in.

The school closed with a big Sunday afternoon singing. Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Baxter, president and vice-president of
Stamps-Baxter, were there. So were the Speer Family (minus Brock, who in the armed services at the time). The
Sand Mountain Quartet with Hershall Collins at the piano literally tore up the room, lighting an even greater fire inside
me.

BACK TO NORTH CAROLINA
Then, as quickly as it started, it was over. Still, as I left the outskirts of Chattanooga headed for North Carolina, I
knew my life had been changed completely. My confidence, destroyed at times, was slowly rebuilding. I had made a
start.

In retrospect, I have spent my life following the dream that was fueled during those three weeks. I regret something
like the old Stamps-Baxter schools no longer exists for people who desire a career in Christian music. I know the
young people today need the same kind of help I needed at a crucial time in my life. The old fashioned singing
school helped me, and I don’t know what would have happened to me without it.
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