The Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company, established in 1926 in Dallas, Texas, by Virgil Oliver Stamps and Jesse Randall Baxter, Jr., contributed significantly to American music education by organizing singing schools sponsoring the Stamps-Baxter Normal School of Music. The singing schools and the normal school, promoted from 1934-1974 through the company's journals, The Southern Music News and Gospel Music News, provided two basic forms of music education to its participants.
The singing schools, established when the company was founded, continued the American singing-school tradition of improving singing in the churches. Churches often sponsored the company's singing schools by providing facilities and paying the required fees for the singing-school teacher and necessary materials. Attracting students of all ages, the Stamps-Baxter singing school offered a curriculum that remained elementary--teaching basic music literacy in sight-singing, ear training, and conducting. (1)
The Stamps-Baxter Normal School of Music is based on the "normal schools" of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in which many public school teachers received their training. The term "normal" indicated a school that trained teachers for elementary and secondary general education. However, the Stamps-Baxter Normal School of Music not only provided short-term classes for music teacher preparation, it also offered elementary music courses like the ones taught in the singing schools. As a result, the Stamps-Baxter normal schools were larger than other singing schools of their time and attracted students at various levels of musicianship. (2) Separating the history of singing schools and normal schools becomes difficult because the singing schools were often a subset of the Stamps-Baxter normal schools, where students learned how to teach music classes offered in the singing schools.
The various classes within the normal schools were offered at different levels of difficulty. The more difficult courses took longer. In the singing schools, a single instructor taught one class comprised of students of various levels of knowledge, typically only two hours each day for a period of one week or ten days over a two-week period. Singing schools conducted during the summer months frequently included classes for children during the day with additional classes in the evening for adults. (3) On the other hand, the normal schools, which usually employed one instructor for each subject area, often continued throughout the day, dividing students into classes of varying difficulty. (4) However, textbooks used in the singing-schools and normal schools were similar, with the latter covering more material than the former. (5)
Indeed, the Stamps-Baxter normal schools might not have existed had it not been for the singing schools. Singing schools provided basic, rudimentary knowledge. Students who mastered this progressed to more difficult classes offered at the normal school, where they then could be trained as singing-school teachers. (6)
By the close of the nineteenth century, the singing-school tradition was established in the Southern states, "where it was destined to thrive and grow" (7) because of two motivating factors. One factor was that the schools served as a venue for socializing. (8) The second factor was that the schools helped students gain a fundamental education in music, with the larger objective of improving music in their churches: "Singing schools are religious institutions; they seek to train our youth to sing God's praise." (9) The Gospel Music News often addressed these issues. Contributor Walter Howell wrote "We are admonished by holy writ to Do [sic ] all things in decency and in order. Consider this in connection with the singing in our church services. A singing school directed by a Christian teacher will do much in giving desired results. …