Do the names Blackwood, Goodman, Gaither, or Speer mean anything to you? If you grew up in the South, they probably do. These are some of the most recognizable “southern gospel” family quartets that have ever performed.
Southern gospel music evolved out of the “shape note” or Stamps-Baxter singing schools of the South. Early in the 20th century, hymnals were rare and treasured like Bibles, with many using a method of music notation called “shape notes.” While the system had originally only used four tones of a scale, by the turn of the century, three more had been added, corresponding with the seven unique notes of a major scale. Each one of these notes was given a shape to represent it, and even though the shape note was printed on a staff, most people who learned to sing using shape notes had no idea what pitches they were singing. They knew only what shapes correspond to the seven tones of a scale: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti. While they may not have been musically trained, they were taught to sing with gusto!
Shape note schools were founded all over our country, even as far back as the 1700s, but through the years, many went by the wayside. It seems that people of the South held on to this tradition and many are still active today. In 1924, the Stamps-Baxter Music Company was founded in Dallas, Texas. Familiar songs like If We Never Meet Again, I Will Meet You in the Morning and Just a Little Talk With Jesus were published by Stamps-Baxter. One of the ways that folks heard these songs was by traveling quartets, usually four men, who sang these songs and others like them in churches throughout the South. These quartets paved the way for the southern gospel music we know today.
I’ll share more of the southern gospel music story soon.