Full gospel publishing
An Oak Cliff publisher touched millions of protestant churchgoers in America in the 1930s and ’40s.
The Stamps-Baxter Music Co. published songbooks and hymnals from its headquarters on North Tyler Street for decades, popularizing tunes such as “Farther Along” and “Just a Little Talk with Jesus.”
The company’s influence spread with broadcasts on KRLD and via singing quartets they dispatched to county fairs, churches and revivals all over the country.
“This was like music central of Oak Cliff,” says David Spence, whose company, Good Space, recently renovated the former Stamps-Baxter Music Co. building at 207-209 N. Tyler for retail and office space.
Also on the block were the original Top Ten Records location, Wilkins Music Store, a piano studio and a rival music publisher to Stamps-Baxter.
The building was constructed around 1922, and Stamps-Baxter bought it in 1936.
Virgil O. Stamps and J.R. Baxter Jr. worked for competing gospel-music publishing houses when they became partners in the 1920s. By 1929, they had moved their company to Dallas from Jacksonville, Texas.
Stamps, who lived on North Windomere Avenue, was the face of the company. He was a big guy, standing about 6-foot-4, with a charismatic personality.
“By all accounts, if he had wanted to run for governor of Texas, he would’ve had it in the bag,” Spence says. “He was an entrepreneurial genius and a larger-than-life guy.”
The company published four new songbooks every year, and they sponsored singing quartets to promote them. In its heyday, Stamps-Baxter had 34 quartets traveling the country.
The Stamps-Baxter quartet performed gospel songs inside glass recording booths at the 1936 Texas Centennial, which prompted KRLD to invite them to perform on-air.
The radio station stipulated that the quartets could only sing patriotic and popular songs, no gospel. Stamps agreed, but when the recording light came on, the quartet began singing a gospel number.
“They said something along the lines of, ‘If you like these songs, send KRLD a telegram,’ ” Spence says.
The radio station received thousands of telegrams asking for more gospel music. The Stamps-Baxter quartet was so popular that it helped the radio station increase its reach from 10,000 watts to 50,000 watts, and KRLD became a hub for gospel music up through the 1960s.
Broadcasting rules at the time required the station to keep the signal local, but after midnight, they were allowed to turn up their wattage and broadcast nationwide. Stamps capitalized on this with all-night gospel singing live from Dallas, Texas. In June 1940, he filled the Sportatorium with 7,500 people, who sang along with the Stamps-Baxter quartet from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. He also filled the Cotton Bowl for these “all-night sings.”
Another facet of the Stamps-Baxter marketing was a music school. Church choir leaders and music students came from all over the United States to attend the two-week Stamps-Baxter Music School in Oak Cliff. The school taught “shape notes,” a less complicated system of reading music that’s designed for community singing. The school cost $6, and room and board cost $7.
In 1927, the same year Stamps-Baxter was founded, was the first year that the U.S. Census reported that more Americans lived in cities than in rural areas.
“Those small-town Southern people who moved to the big city, that was their target market,” Spence says.
Imagine how many baby-faced Christian singers arrived by streetcar in Oak Cliff on their first trip away from home.
V.O. Stamps died in 1941.
His partner took over, and Stamps- Baxter was run by J.R. “Pap” and his wife, “Ma” Baxter until Pap died in 1968 and Ma in ’72.
The company held on until 1987, but its glory days had ended by the start of the TV era.
Spence, who renovated the Stamps-Baxter building with partner Trey Bartosh, had the company’s old-fashioned logo painted on the side of the building.
The second story is finished out to serve an office tenant, such as a small law firm. But for the ground-floor space, Spence envisions a gallery or perhaps some kind of retail/manufacturer.
Stamps-Baxter had a storefront with a printing press and bookbinding operation on the ground floor, plus offices and music rooms upstairs.
Retail, light manufacturing, artists, entrepreneurs … Some things never change.
Spence notes, “Isn’t that just what everybody is doing in Oak Cliff now?”