...Special Recognition for Female Trailblazers

There are so many woman through the years (and currently active) in Gospel music world who
have been such wonderful trailblazers. My list of those females who have played important roles
could go one for page after page. I have already written a special I REMEMBER on one of them,
Lily Fern Weatherford.Here are more of the very special women who have helped Gospel music
what it is today:

Fern Waite Couchman
Fern was an outstanding musician in the Forties and Fifties. I have never heard anyone play
Gospel music any better than she did. She was a true student of the piano. By profession, she
was a piano teacher. Those who were her students were blessed, indeed, to have the
opportunity to study piano with her.

Billie Reynolds
Another outstanding Gospel pianist, she was a mainstay of the early years. I was never blessed
to hear her in person, but those who did said she was one of the best. She taught in the leading
Gospel music schools of her day. Those who studied with her were especially enthusiastic about
her teaching and playing abilities. In any conversation about great Gospel pianists, those from
her era inevitably get around to talking about Billie Reynolds.

Catherine Fossett
Pianist for the well-known Baxter Quartet, Catherine also taught in the great STamps-Baxter
schools of music during the Forties and Fifties. People from those years often point to her as a
major influence on the pianists who came afterward.

    Clarice "Ma" Baxter
    Some called her "Ma." Others called her "Mom." That sort of typified her role
    with so many Gospel musicians. Not only did she sing in the Baxter Quartet
    alongside her husband, J. R., but she worked with him as part owner of the
    prestigious Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company. She was influential
    in both the printing operation and the annual Stamps-Baxter School of Music,
    an enterprise that continues to impact generation after generation of
    musicians. After her husband's death during 1960, she served as president
    of the entire company, the first woman to hold a position of such
    responsibility in a major Gospel music business.

Sally Stamps
Recognized by many as one of the best Gospel music pianists during the Forties and Fifties,
Sally was also an outstanding Gospel songwriter, working closely with her husband, Frank
Stamps, arguably one of the most influential pioneers of Southern Gospel music. Frank and his
brother, V. O., along with J.R. Baxter, formed one of the most powerful publishing companies of
their day. The Frank Stamps Quartet was also the first Southern Gospel group to sign on a
major label (Victor Records). The Stamps-Baxter School of Music prepared and inspired this
type of music to new heights, and Sally was a mainstay in the company, serving as an executive
capacity through the Forties through the Sixties, serving as president of the company after the
death of her husband.

Mert Combs
Mrs. Lonnie Combs played the accordian and sang in the Stamps-Baxter Mixed Quartet. This
group, along with the LeFevres featuring Eva Mae, were among the first mixed groups to
compete on teh same level with the top male quartets. She and her husband Lonnie wrote
Gospel songs together and were well known for their unique, heart-touching style of writing.

Marie Davis
A leading quartet pianist in the Forties and Fifties, Marie, along with Fern Waite Couchman and
Billie Reynolds, were so good they were sought by the professional male groups, breaking the
barriers into the top echelon of pianists.

Mrs. Ellis Short, Jr., and Mrs. J. W. Payte
These two ladies deserve special mention because they were representative of the many women
who wrote songs that became favoriets in teh singing conventions and radio broadcasts of the
Forties and Fifties. Both women were also popular singing school teachers.

The Stamps-Baxter Melody Girls
I wish I could list all the great ladies quartets who rose to acclaim during the Forties and Fifites,
but one of the best were these women from Fayetteville, Arkansas. They sang incredible four-
part harmony and convention-style Gospel songs, and they were huge hits anywhere they went.

    Lily Fern Weatherford
    As mentioned before, I have already featured Lily Fern in an I
    REMEMBER eColumn, but I can't talk about some of the amazing
    femaie trailblazers without mentioning her again. She influenced so
    many singers and musicians, and she deserves to be on any honor roll
    of great Gospel music achievers.

Audrey Meier
What a profound writer, choir arranger, conductor and performer! Audrey was the composer of
many great Gospel songs which include "I’ll Never Be Lonely," "All He Wants Is You," "He
Belongs To Me," “It Matters To Him About You,” "To Be Used Of God" and “When You Pray.”
She is probably best known for her now-classic song, “His Name Is Wonderful.” She showed
what a spiritual impact a Gospel singing group could have on its listeners. She first gained
nationwide attention as a member and director of the Phil Kerr Harmony Chorus that was so
popular on the West Coast during the Fifties. The Phil Kerr Monday Musicals, of which Audrey
Meir was so much a part, began in March 1945. People would often line up an hour or so early
to get seats, knowing that the weekly events would feature some of the best-known Christian
musicians. These musicals continued every Monday night, year-round, until the passing of Mr.
Kerr in 1960. Afterward, Audrey began holding musical concerts throughout the United States,
where both well known and lesser known Gospel music artists would appear. She then moved to
Rex Humbard’s Cathedral of Tomorrow, where she was the music director.  She was instrumental
in the careers of many Gospel songwriters and performers, particularly  the Grammy Award-
winning, Andrae Crouch. Along with her musical talents, she was the driving force in the
formation of two orphanages in Korea, bringing many racially-mixed Korean orphans to the
United States for adoption. Audrey died in November of 1996 in Los Angeles.

    Hazel Slaughter
    Now, how could I complete a list of influential women without mentioning
    my own precious wife? Without her, I could never have achieved much
    of anything. She has always been my greatest cheerleader, best duet
    partner and love of my life! My life changed forever when I first laid
    eyes on her during early 1952 in Laurel, Mississippi. Seven month later
    (December 22), we were married. Next to receiving Jesus Christ into
    my heart as a small lad in Person County, North Carolina, asking Hazel
    to marry me was the best decision this country boy ever made!

Yes, there have been many female trailblazers in Gospel music, so many I certainly can't
list them all in this one eColumn. Watch for more features on these influential women in future
I REMEMBER spotlights here at MyBestYears.com.
"Instead of
spotlighting those
who have received a
lot of attention during
recent years, I would
like to look back and
mention some of the
women through the
years that should be
included on a very
special honor roll of
female trailblazers..."

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