James D Vaughan
Sometimes credited as James Vaughn
James D Vaughan is known as the father of Southern Gospel music.
James D. Vaughan was born during the Civil War in Giles County, Tennessee, to George Washington Vaughan and his wife Eliza. His father did well enough in the post-war years to send James to a private school. He soon developed an aptitude for music, teaching his brothers to sing the four parts when they were still small children.
After marrying and moving to Texas, he met a man named Ephraim Hildebrand who operated a music company in Virginia. Hildebrand encouraged Vaughan to try composing music. The two later co-wrote several songs that the giant music publishing company of that day, Ruebush-Kieffer included in a collection titled Crowning Day, No. 2. Vaughan and Hildebrand then worked together printing a couple of songbooks of their own.
All of this led to Vaughan ultimately founding the James D. Vaughan Music Publishing Company in 1900. By this point, he had moved back to Tennessee where he published his first songbook on his own titled Gospel Chimes. He moved his company to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee a couple of years later. After the move, he initially took a clerk position and began using a back room at his office to warehouse his songbooks. His efforts were so successful he soon left clerking behind to publish music full-time.
It has proved impossible for historians to determine a specific date when the style that later came to be labeled “Southern Gospel” began, but James D. Vaughan is widely accepted as the father of the genre. Prior to 1910, singing school instructors had traveled the country selling songbooks, but Vaughan decided to establish an entire quartet to model for potential customers just how the songs in his songbooks should sound. His Vaughan Quartet was not the first to attempt such a thing, but they were the first to succeed at it.
In 1911, Vaughan established the Vaughan School Of Music. Having a school for students to come be instructed in music had proved to be a critical element in the business. Once students were trained to sing, they could join a quartet and begin traveling to sing, instruct, and sell more of Vaughan’s songbooks.
The following year, Vaughan began publishing a newsletter titled The Vaughan Family Visitor. The Ruebush-Kieffer and Showalter companies had both proven the model of using a newsletter to increase songbook sales prior to Vaughan.
Vaughan was not content to merely conduct business exactly as others had done in the past, however. In 1922, he embraced advances in technology by launching the first radio station in the state of Tennessee, with call letters WOAN. He also launched a record company called Vaughan Phonograph Records. Vaughan’s company was one of only a few that flourished during the Great Depression of the 1930s. His total songbook sales over his lifetime are estimated to be more than six million. In addition to publishing songbooks, he printed educational material that was used in the public-school system.
Vaughan passed away in 1941 after suffering a heart attack. It is estimated as many as 7000 came to his funeral. They could not all attend because the capacity of the church would only allow 500. A public address system was used so the crowds could hear the ceremony.