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Burleigh, Henry Thacker (02 December 1866–12 September 1949), composer and spiritual singer, was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. Nothing is known about his parentage. When he was a little boy his excellent singing voice made him a sought-after performer in churches and synagogues in and around his hometown. In 1892, having decided on a career in music, Burleigh won a scholarship to the National Conservatory of Music in New York. His matriculation coincided with the arrival of the Czech composer ...

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Campbell, Lucie E. (1885–03 January 1963), gospel composer and teacher, was born in Duck Hill, Mississippi, the daughter of Burrell Campbell, a railroad worker, and Isabella Wilkerson. Her mother was widowed several months after Lucie’s birth, and the family soon moved from Carroll County to Memphis, the nearest major city. Lucie and her many siblings struggled to survive on their mother’s meager wages, which she earned by washing and ironing clothing. Given the family’s insubstantial income, it could afford a musical education for only one child: Lucie’s older sister Lora. Lucie eventually learned to play piano, however, through her own persistence, a gifted ear for music, and a little help from Lora....

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Cleveland, James (05 December 1932–09 February 1991), gospel singer, songwriter, and musician was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Ben Cleveland and Rosie Lee during the Great Depression. His father worked on a WPA project while his mother was a day worker. James worked as a paper boy to supplement the family income; he first met ...

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Sam Cooke. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107994).

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Cooke, Sam (22 January 1931–11 December 1964), singer-songwriter, was born Samuel Cook in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the son of Charles Cook, a minister in the Church of Christ (Holiness), and Annie May Carl. After Sam’s father lost his position as houseboy for a wealthy cotton farmer as a result of the Great Depression, the family migrated to Chicago, where Reverend Cook became assistant pastor of Christ Temple (Holiness) and a laborer in the stockyards. The family lived in Bronzeville, Chicago’s severely overcrowded and impoverished black section. Young Sam was educated at nearby schools and gained musical experience by sneaking into taverns to hear pop tunes but mostly by hearing and singing gospel music at church. There he started a gospel group, the Singing Children; later he joined the Teenage Highway QC’s and became more widely known throughout the nation. He graduated from Wendell Phillips High School in 1948. About that time he spent ninety days in jail on a morals charge that stemmed from a paternity suit....

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Dorsey, Thomas Andrew (01 July 1899–23 January 1993), blues performer, gospel singer, and composer, was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, the son of Thomas Madison Dorsey, a preacher, and Etta Plant Spencer. Dorsey’s mother, whose first husband had died, owned approximately fifty acres of farm land. Dorsey lived in somewhat trying circumstances as his parents moved first to Atlanta and Forsyth, Georgia, and then back to Villa Rica during the first four years of his life. In Villa Rica the Dorsey family settled into a rural lifestyle supported by marginal farming that was slightly mitigated by his father’s pastoral duties....

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Fowler, Wally (15 February 1917–03 June 1994), gospel music promoter, singer, and songwriter, was born John Wallace Fowler near Cartersville, Georgia, the son of Joseph Fletcher Fowler, a well-established cotton farmer; his mother’s name is not known. By the time Wally Fowler was ready for school, the Great Depression had wrecked his father’s fortunes, and he and his sisters grew up working as sharecroppers. The Fowler family, however, loved music; his mother played an old pump organ, and his father helped organize Saturday night gospel singings in the front rooms of neighborhood houses. “That’s when I really learned gospel music,” he recalled. What formal training the singers got came from J. M. Henson, an Atlanta publisher and singing school teacher, who came to the area to conduct singing schools, using the seven-shape note system that was popular throughout the South at that time....

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Jenkins, Andrew (26 November 1885–1956), folk composer and gospel singer, was born in Jenkinsburg, near Atlanta, Georgia. His parents’ names are unknown. Jenkins was partially blinded as an infant when the wrong medication was put into his eyes. By the time he was nine he had joined the Methodist church and was climbing up on tree stumps to preach sermons to his family and friends. He preached his first formal sermon in a church in 1909, when he was twenty-four. Among his influences were two Atlanta residents who had gained nationwide reputations in the field of religion, composer Charlie Tillman (who had written the song “Life’s Railway to Heaven”) and evangelist Sam P. Jones (who published many gospel songbooks and traveled around the South doing tent revivals). To supplement his income, Jenkins sold newspapers on the streets of Atlanta and soon acquired a reputation as a folk preacher....

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Sankey, Ira David (28 August 1840–14 August 1908), singing evangelist and gospel songwriter, was born in Edinburg, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, the son of David Sankey and Mary Leeper. Sankey’s father was a Pennsylvania state representative, collector of internal revenue, member of the State Board of Equalization, and newspaper editor. During Sankey’s childhood his father also farmed in West Central Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border. The family attended King’s Chapel near Western Reserve Harbor, where Sankey was converted during revival meetings in 1856. In 1857, when Sankey’s father accepted the presidency of a local bank, the family moved to New Castle, Pennsylvania, where Sankey joined the New Castle Methodist Church. By 1860 he was Sunday school superintendent and choir director....

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Ira D. Sankey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108534).

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See Stamps, V. O.

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Stamps, V. O. (18 September 1892–19 August 1940), and Frank Henry Stamps (07 October 1896–12 February 1965), composers, singers, and music promoters, were born in Simpsonville, Upshur County, Texas, the sons of W. O. Stamps and Florence Corine Rosser, community leaders from Upshur County, where W. O. Stamps ran several sawmills and founded the community of Stamps. He later served two terms in the Texas legislature and for a time acted as head of the Texas prison system. Both V. O., born Virgil Oliver Stamps, and Frank Stamps, two of six brothers, were introduced to gospel music when their father hired a music teacher to conduct singing schools in the community. V. O. was fourteen at the time; Frank, six. Both brothers soon found they had an aptitude for the seven-shape note music taught in the school, a type of music that was widely popular in Texas at the time....

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Vaughan, James David (14 December 1864–09 February 1941), music publisher and composer, was born in rural Giles County, Tennessee, the son of George Washington Vaughan and Mary Eliza (maiden name unknown), farmers. As a child he was exposed to the seven-shape note singing school music, which was popular in that region. While in his teens, he attended local singing schools, and with his three younger brothers, John, Will, and Charles Wesley, formed a gospel quartet—the prototype of what would later prove to be one of Vaughan’s most important innovations. In 1882 he set up his own singing-school at the church where his family worshiped, and shortly thereafter, he began to compose songs with E. T. Hildebrand, one of the owners of the Hildebrand-Burnett Music Company of Roanoke, Virginia. Although he was preparing himself to be a teacher, Vaughan continued to take his family quartet to local singings and to further his own education about music....