James D. Vaughan Museum
Open Monday through Friday from 9:30-11 am, then 1-3 pm. Call (931) 762-8991 to get an appointment with a volunteer!
Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, is known as the birthplace of Southern Gospel Music because of one Giles County man named James David Vaughan. This man was born during the Civil War. He saw the extension of the train, the invention of the automobile, and the continuation of flight, so it was no surprise when he would later take to the air with the first licensed radio station in Tennessee! The story of James D. Vaughan is fascinating to any history enthusiast or music fan. Below are the photos of the old James D. Vaughan museum and members of the Vaughan family with Tom Crews, the curator.
Old James D. Vaughan Museum
From September 1999 to 2016, the James D. Vaughan Museum has been educating and entertaining visitors from the layout in the photos below. As long as there wasn't a crowd of visitors in to see the museum, it was fine to walk around and look at the photos or read the text in the print. We knew that the museum would need a fresh new look one day, but it did the intended job. The side room had a small television that played a VHS tape for the visitor to watch and had a seating area of wooden chairs to sit in. We felt it was informative to put the old museum and the new museum on this webpage for comparison if a visitor has been to the old museum and would like to see the new one!
New James D. Vaughan Museum
In 2015 the renovation process was started to make the James D. Vaughan Museum better than ever with the new conceptual design of Bobby Evers of Evers Construction. This design would make the space larger and better able to host visitors. Tom Crews would continue to curate the museum, along with volunteers who come in to help curate the museum. Tom Crews was 7 years old when he entered the music school of Mr. James D. Vaughan, so he personally knew the legend himself and makes the best curator at the museum while on your visit. The new museum has a wrap-around design that takes the visitor through the life of James D. Vaughan, then to the hymnals he wrote, and finally to the book-making process he used. These book-making machines are neat; kids love seeing the pieces and how they join together. Then you get to see many shape note music school and publishing awards and the mic and board he used to get on the air at WOAN! Everyone can find something interesting in this museum! Below are photos of the new museum!
The James D. Vaughan Quartet Festival
One of the unique ways James D. Vaughan made history was to put together a singing group of four men that he paid to sing at events and churches. He paid for them to have a car and to sell his hymnals. This was the invention of the professional singing group quartet. Today, these quartets show up in Lawrenceburg to sing at the Crockett Theatre for the annual James D. Vaughan Quartet Festival! The event is always hosted by The Kellys and emcee Josh Franks, who starts every night of the four-day festival. Since Lawrenceburg is the birthplace of southern gospel music, this event draws the best quartets in the country to the stage every year! People from all over come to Lawrenceburg to hear these quartets perform! You will never find a better place to hear southern gospel music than the James D. Vaughan Quartet Festival!
Meet Jon Kelly and Josh Franks
The James D. Vaughan emcee and hosts are Jon Kelly and Josh Franks. These two guys are deeply devoted to the gospel music scene and are professionals in their own right. Both are fully qualified singers and have the credentials to prove it. These two men will keep the tradition of gospel singing and quartets alive for years to come!
Enter your address into your GPS of choice and find your way to the James D. Vaughan Museum to learn about the man who started it all. Bristol, Tennessee, is known as the birthplace of country music, and Nashville is called Music City. Still, it is Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, that gets the title of the birthplace of southern gospel music!
James D. Vaughan Music Pathway Marker
The state of Tennessee has built trails across major roadways to connect various famous places in Tennessee's history! One of these roadways is the gospel pathway, where other famous persons are recognized with a pathway marker. Some of these markers are for music events, but the really nice ones are for the people who made music history! We have such a marker on the Lawrenceburg Tennessee Square where the legend of James D. Vaughan will live on!
The History of Mr. James David Vaughan
One of the most fearful times to be born into is the state of war. In 1864 the city of Pulaski was still recovering after the hanging of Sam Davis and the onslaught of Yankee soldiers in the area where they were about to clash with Confederate troops at Sugar Creek. Lieutenant General Forrest had been pushing Hood's army since Brentwood. On December 14th, 1864, James David Vaughan was born to George Washington Vaughan and his wife, Mary. The couple had just moved from North Carolina, and George was a confederate soldier.
After the war, James was the oldest of four boys and would go to a private school where he would get a better education. A neighbor to the family knew the basics of music and taught students at his music school. All four Vaughan brothers attended the school to learn to sing. James and his brother John would sing bass, and Will sang tenor with Charles singing alto. This arrangement would be a prototype of his gospel quartet later in his career. James would go on to learn how to read and write music and harmony with some of the best teachers.
Mr. Vaughan was getting better at writing his own music and had several of his songs published by the Hilderbrand Burnett Company in the 1890s. He would continue to write music for his own songbook and get married. He was an English and music teacher at schools to make a living, so he moved to Cisco, Texas, where he and his wife would have a son named Glenn Keiffer and a daughter named Mabel Grace. Unfortunately, a tornado in 1893 would take away everything they had, so they moved back to Giles County in 1899, where he would become the principal of Elkmont Springs.
In 1900 he would publish his first book called "Gospel Chimes," and in 1902, he moved to Lawrenceburg to found The Vaughan Publishing Company and later added his brother Charles. In 1909 James would buy a building to operate out of. This worked well for him as he sold 30,000 books in 1909 and twice as many in 1910. With the desire to grow even more prominent, he opened his Vaughan School of Music in 1911. At first, the school was held annually but soon grew to full-time for the instructors. Mr. Vaughan would also buy the newspaper "The Lawrenceburg Times" but soon sold it in 1912.
In 1910 he put a quartet on a circuit to sell his books along the way. Charles Vaughan would manage the group, and they would ride in a Model T Ford that was new at the time. Each performance would have a promotion of the latest songbook; by 1920, there would be 16 quartets traveling across the country. The concept of four men singing gospel music would be an original idea of Mr. Vaughan. All quartets would follow this working model.
This new invention of the radio had caught on, and Mr. Vaughan would take to the air by purchasing WOAN Radio Station in 1922. This was the first radio station ever in the state of Tennessee. This 150-watt transmitter would reach living rooms with people gathered around a radio where they would hear the Vaughan School of Music sessions. It is said that 35 states and Canada could hear the station's broadcast! Times were changing, and more people were buying phonographs. Mr. Vaughan heard the demand for these new records, so he recorded his quartets and sent out these new records to all major radio stations across the United States! By this time, his quartets were full-time singers and included big names in the gospel scene.
Of course, dark days were coming. The stock market crash in 1929 would leave many wanting answers. Recovering from World War One wasn't easy, and trouble in Europe made people uneasy. Germany appointed Adolf Hitler in 1933 as their new chancellor and held mass gatherings with talks of war. WOAN would eventually be sold to WREC in Memphis. The Vaughan Quartet would keep singing on WSM until 1939. By this time, the Vaughan empire would sign many other groups to work for the Vaughan family. The local Speer Family, Jennings Trio, Jewel Denson Family, Old Hickory Junior Girls Quartet, and the Vaughan-Daniel Quartet. Otis and his brother Cecil Knippers would collaborate with Raymond Parker to make the Knipper Evangelistic Party show.
Unfortunately, Mr. Vaughan would die of a heart attack in February of 1941. A man who was born during war would also die during war. His funeral would be estimated to have 7,000 people in attendance in the Nazarene Tabernacle on South Military. More than 3,000 visitors were from out of town, and a loudspeaker was used to announce the message to the overflow sections of the crowd. Keiffer Vaughan would take over the president position after his father until selling the Vaughan Publishing Company to the local Blackwood Brothers in 1964. They would continue the Vaughan legacy until selling the company to a group in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Today the Vaughan legacy continues with The Kellys Quartet. The Kelly family knew Mr. Vaughan and began singing in 1959 when Sonny, Jim, and their wives Ruth and Minnie Paul started singing in the local area. Jon would start in 1980 and take the reins to continue the legacy of the all-male quartet. In 1999 The Kellys performed at the opening of the James D. Vaughan Museum. A James D. Vaughan Quartet Festival was also held at the historic Crockett Theatre, which opened in 1950, and still looks the same. Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, has been recognized as the birthplace of southern gospel music by the Gospel Music Association, the State of Tennessee, and the U.S. Congress.
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