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Stamps Baxter Shaped Note Songbooks

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Stamps Baxter Shaped Note Songbooks
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The Stamps Baxter Music Company was founded in 1926 by V. O. Stamps and J. R. Baxter. When J. R. Baxter died in 1960 Mrs. Baxter (Ma) became sole owner and manager. Mr. Stamps had passed away in 1940. Later other well known musicians joined them in various capacities such as Luther Presley, well known as the writer of “I’d Rather Have Jesus”. Zondervan Company now owns the company, but the operation is far different from its beginning when Mr. Stamps and Mr. Baxter started the business. While Ma Baxter was still running the company I visited the business in Dallas, Texas. I was given a complete tour. There was an old Harris Press where all the music was printed. The pressman was very proud of the operation of the press and had a nickel standing on end to show that the press ran so efficiently that it would not cause the nickel to fall. I was told that the company paid $7.00 for any music they agreed to use. There was no other remuneration except the joy of seeing your gospel song in print. Stamps Baxter Company held the copyrights. They published an annual book of new and old songs and other music collections as well. They were soft cover books on inexpensive paper and inexpensively bound. They were published with shaped notes and usually sold for about one dollar. For those who don’t understand the shaped notes system let me explain that people who sang by this system could sight-read almost anything in shaped notes. Each tone of the scale has a shape such as a triangle which was the first note of the scale or “do”. Other shapes were square, round, upside down triangle, etc. This is a movable “do” system in that whatever key you are in the first tone of the scale is a triangle or “do”. Many churches across the south used these books for their church hymnal, but also for singing schools and Sunday afternoon “Singings”. In Texas that’s pronounced “Sangin’ ” as in, “they are having a Sangin’ at Mt. Pisgey Church on Sunday”. Even if you don’t like this kind of gospel music you would have to appreciate the occasion. There was dinner on th grounds with wonderful country cooking and real butter. After dinner all gathered in the church sanctuary. It was a family affair. Babies slept on pallets on the floor near Mom. Older children played in the church yard or sang with Mom and Dad. All age groups were represented. Each church could bring one of more special numbers (i.e. solos, duets, etc) also better known as “spacials”. There was much congregational singing also. The thing that used to amaze me the most was how fast the faster songs were done. You could almost do them one one breath. They sang lustily and in parts and it was fun. People came to know not only people in their own community but those from other communities and churches. Life long friends were frequently made. The Stamps Baxter Company also put out a newsletter monthly. Reports from various communities were folksy such as “Aunt Sadie is back from visiting her grandchildren in South Dakota.” While some pastors were not as thrilled with the Singings as their congregations because on the Sundays whene there was a Singing somewhere near church attendance at the home church would be down. The Stamps Baxter books and Singings filled a real need. I am not sure of the last book printed like this but it must have been in the 70s. Zondervan bought the company and now the annuals and newsletters are no more. Mostly the Singings are bygone too. Its a day that is gone and I wish it weren't. The music and lyrics were certainly not classical but the songs and way of life was cherished and promoted family togetherness and community friendliness. Maybe I am showing my age but I, for one, wish that day was not gone. I wish for the simpler life of family togetherness and friendly people gathered to simply sing the praises of God. Since I have a more classical music degree from a Texas University (Hardin Simmons) the first time I went to a church to play the piano and found they used this genre of church music I had a rough time getting the special hang of accompanying this style. About the second or third song I finally got it and all went well after that and the people really sang like they meant it. Stamps Baxter sponsored many singing schools across the country. The Stamps Baxter Quartet was well known on radio and by personal appearance. The day I visited the company there were a number of boxes of their annuals and other published music. I asked what they were going to do with them. My guide said they were just going to store them in the garage. I asked if they would sell them. He was surprised that I wanted them but agreed to sell all of them. This is how I came to own quite a number of the Stamps Baxter publications. As a music director I have used many of them because my choirs always seemed to enjoy singing them and most of them are not really easy. Now I have been selling some of them although I always hate to part with them, but I keep hoping someone else will enjoy them too and be able to relive a day that is gone.
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