...Including the Huge Texas Gatherings

If there is one thing that formed the foundation of what we have come to know as Southern Gospel Music, it is the
Sunday afternoon singing conventions.

Writers wrote songs, publishers published them, teachers taught the music and together they met the needs of
the singing conventions. Singing groups and teachers received support from the publishers because they helped
publicize the music.

The singing convention music paved the way for groups such as quartets to give concerts that led to the "all-
night singing" era.

I don't want this to sound like the singing conventions were altogether a thing of the past. The singing convention
books are still being published, so there must be places where they have use of this style music, and many of the
Southern Gospel groups still use a lot arrangements and songs that hearken back to the old convention-style

    For the most part, however, the singing conventions are part
    of yesteryear. It has been decades since I attended one, but
    there was a time in my Gospel music career when the singing
    convention was almost a weekly happening.

    In the early years people rode on horseback and in mule-
    drawn wagons or walked for miles to attend the much-
    anticipated weekend singings once the crops were "laid by" for
    the summer. Many brought their children, since "shaped note"
    singing schools often accompanied these conventions, and
    many young people learned the rudiments of music at these

There were county, tri-county, state, tri-state, regional and national singing conventions. They were so popular
that big community events often included them.

For many years, as an example, the Dothan (Alabama) County Fair opened on Sunday with a singing convention
featuring and honoring one of the big personalities of the day, Frank Stamps. He either brought the Stamps
Quartet or one of the other quartets representing his company, and I had the pleasure of bing in one of those
gorups and making the trip with him one year. Ah, but that is another story for another I REMEMBER!

One of the most memorable I ever attended was the
Texas State Convention held in Stephenville, Texas,
during the early Fifties. These larger conventions
had sessions on Saturday evening, Sunday morning
and Sunday afternoon.

The groups I was with at the time, the Stamps Ozark
Quartet from Wichita Falls, were asked by Frank
Stamps and the Stamps Quartet Music Company to
be there as one of their company's representatives.
The other major publishers had their representatives
there, as well, and that is one of the things that made
it such an interesting gathering.

All singers were invited to come to the state and be
part of the class singing, a term that came from the
singing school classes when they all joined together
to sing from the convention books. Those responding
were the folks who like to sing, and it was apparent.
They were usually good music readers and often
sight-read the shaped notes songs.

Oh, I wish you could hear the amazing sound of a
hundred or more of these folk singing a convention-
style song. It wasn't just great music. It was a power-
ful spiritual time, as well!

All of this, along with the fun, visiting and fellowship, made these conventions so wonderful and memorable!

These singing conventions were entertaining. They were not like the Sunday morning worship services we were
used to attending. They were not like the Sunday night evangelist services like most had experienced. They were
times when those who liked to sing and hear this great music got together. It was simple a place for those who
liked this very unique style of music that was wholesome, inspiring and enjoyable.

It was somewhere to go, something to do that added so much to lives that were often routine and difficult.

The people who participated in the music and those who came to just listen were from a variety of backgrounds.
Some were dedicated Christians. Some were not. There were some who were obviously well-heeled. Most were
not. Some were from mainline denominational churches. Many came from little backwoods churches. But all liked
the music and being together!

The singing conventions provided a common ground where they could all meet and share fellowship, enjoying the
music and getting to know lots of people better. The things that separated—distances, backgrounds,
denominations—were set aside for a time.

There is a verse in the Bible that explains what happened:
"That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me,
and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me"
(John 17:21). It
was that good!

For that reasons the singing conventions had such a redeeming quality and purpose. You went home different
than you arrived.

The order of the programs was to have two or three class songs which were led by a visiting director, each song
directed by a different leader. Then came a special song or two by a visiting group, often a quartet (all-male,
mixed or families).

The special guests were music company representatives, and that is where the competition began. The object,
usually good-natured, was to make the biggest hit you could for yourself and the company. Groups wanted to be
the highlight of the convention.

Although the groups were friends, the competition was very strong. In some instances it was fierce.

There were highs and lows for the traveling groups, but nothing was lower than when another group "stole the
show" at a singing convention. The word spread like wildfire about a group that did particularly good.

In spite of ourselves sometimes, we inspired others to enter the world of Gospel music. Most of the people who
went on to careers in groups got started by first attending and performing at these singing conventions.

Two things I especially remember from the big early Fifties Texas State Singing Convention I mentioned earlier.
First, it was the last time I saw or heard Frank Stamps singing bass in the famous Stamps Quartet. The "Old
Gentlemen," as the group was sometimes called, were truly legends in their time.

Secondly, it was the first and last time for me to see and hear John Braselton Fillmore Wright. He was a tall, white-
haired cotton farmer who had been born in Tennessee, but who had grown up on near Box Church and Hamlin,
Texas. He had written one of Gospel music's most memorable songs, "Precious Memories," a song that was born
after the death of his three year old son.

Even more than being a songwriter, he was a country poet through and through. I can close my eyes today and
see him as he stood that day and recited one of his poems. He must have been well into his seventies and his
voice was shaky, but he stood tall and spoke words that were both sincere and sensitive. It was stirring.

His popular song, along others such as "Give the World a Smile" (the theme song for the Stamps Quartet,
penned by M. L. Yandell and Otis Deaton, students at the Stamps School of Music in Jacksonville, Texas, and
probably the first Gospel song to become a gold record) and "Just a Little Talk with Jesus" (written by Reverend
Cleavant Derricks—pastor, church builder, choir director, poet, musician, and composer of more than 300 songs
and several song books), became the music that broke through to the listening ears of millions through the
original Stamps Quartet.

These singing conventions gave the platform to people such as J. B. F. Wright to recite their poems and sing
their songs. It encouraged people to learn, sing and write music. It was a hotbed for writers to get songs
published and performers to develop and display their talents beyond a local church.

Of course, there are many avenues for writers and performers today, but none that could have been so
encouraging and enjoyable as the singing conventions.

Yes, I remember them well. I also recall warmly the people I came to know through these gatherings.

What a foundation and legacy for today's Gospel music, and was a wonderful part of our heritage!
1910 Singing Convention
Jasper, Georgia
Stamps Ozark Quartet—1948
(L-R) Pat Garner, Ford Keith, Charles Bartlett,
Fred Bennett and Henry Slaughter
Frank Stamps

In 1927, the Frank
Stamps Quartet
became the first to
sign with a major
record label, Victor
Records, and they had
the first genuine
Southern Gospel hit
record with "Give the
World a Smile." Under
the banner of both
Stamps-Baxter and
Stamps Quartet Music,
many groups traveled
with the Stamps name
and promoted
songbook sales. Frank
continued to sing with
various Stamps
groups, including the
company’s flagship
group, the Frank
Stamps All-Stars, which
ultimately became
known simply as the
Stamps Quartet. Frank
Stamps ultimately
retired from singing
with the group in 1950
to focus exclusively on
songbook publishing.

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