One summer day shortly after the Civil War ended, two young men made their way up a dusty road toward a village called Singer’s Glen in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Their names were Aldine Kieffer and Ephriam Ruebush, and they had met in a Union prisoner-of-war camp; both were lovers of music, and Kieffer’s grandfather had operated a songbook-printing company before the war. Now the two friends had in mind resurrecting the company, but as they got into the town and looked over the scene, they found the printing presses broken up, overgrown with weeds, the type jumbled and spilled. Determined, though, they set to work, cleaned up the print shop, picked up the spilled type, and were soon publishing new books of gospel songs.
These books used a system of shaped notes rather than the round ones generally used by northern and European publishers, and it quickly spread throughout the South. To help encourage it, the two friends decided to organize the Virginia Normal School, which began to dispatch singing teachers throughout the South. One of the pupils was a Tennessean named James D. Vaughan, who eventually started his own publishing company, and hit upon the idea of promoting his new songs by sending quartets of well-trained singers on the road to give free concerts in local churches. Within a generation, these male quartets were becoming more popular than the songs they were singing, and by the 1920s they had become synonymous with gospel singing itself.
In the early days of country music, many of the ideas of what consitituted good singing came from this gospel tradition. A lot of early singers got their training in harmony, meter, and tone from the old-time “singing schools” and early quartets. Opry pioneer Kirk McGee attended them as a child, as did the Delmore Brothers, Bill and Charlie Monroe, A.P. Carter, and others. Members of the old colorful string bands like the Red Fox Chasers, the Georgia Yellow Hammers, and Dr.