By Becky Jane Newbold
Four decades of teaching America to sing wrote James D. Vaughan’s name in the history books, especially in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. On the third floor of the Sun Trust Bank on the square is a collection of radio equipment, musical instruments and various articles once connected with James D. Vaughan.
In July, the James D. Vaughan Quartet Festival at the Crockett Theatre will honor his memory in Lawrenceburg, the birthplace of Southern Gospel Music.
Museum Curator Tom Crews has overseen the collection since
the beginning in 1999. A paid position the first couple of years, he continued to volunteer when the pay stopped. Crews knowledge of the Vaughan family and school was impressive. And his interest is in the blood since he is related to the “Singing Speer Family” who moved to Lawrenceburg in 1930.
James D. Vaughan financed the first professional Southern Gospel Quartet in May of 1910 and during his lifetime published six million songbooks developing the shaped-note method. Singing schools, the first radio broadcasting station licensed in Tennessee, recordings, magazine and publishing songbooks originated from the same location on which the bank now rests.
Vaughan moved to Lawrenceburg in 1902 where he founded the Vaughan Music Company. Songwriters were able to come to the music company and use typesetting equipment to create their music for print. By 1925, Vaughan had sixteen full-time gospel quartets. By 1934 they were touring the nation in a fleet of cars owned by Vaughan.
Numerous quartets got their start with the Vaughans. The Singing Speer Family was thought by many as one of the greatest of all the Southern Gospel Music groups.
It was suspected the farmer G. T. Speer (also known as “Dad”
Speer) started singing as a way to get out of the fields. G. T. and Lena Speer, taught their children, Mary Tom, Rosa Nell, Brock and Ben to sing parts and the Singing Speer Family became history.
“There are 14 of us first cousins,” Crews began. “And there is one who knows nothing about music. When I go to church, I move my mouth without uttering a note,” he told. “They are all talented in music. Every last one of them,” he added.
Crews’ part is in preservation of the legacy. The James D. Vaughan Quartet Festival will run three days, July 25-27, 2013 inside the Crockett Theatre just off the square with matinees on Friday and Saturday at 1 p.m.
“The theatre seats 1,200. It’ll be full every night,” Crews said.
The event is sponsored by Lawrenceburg Main Street Association. For information, visit www.lawrenceburgtn.gov