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The Hartford Music Company, located in Hartford (Sebastian County), was founded in 1918 by Eugene Monroe (E. M.) Bartlett, a businessman from Waynesville, Missouri, who wanted to publish gospel music. Specifically, he was interested in teaching people how to sight read a song, using shape notes, which would enable them to read music and sing with or without an instrument. Hartford was the perfect location for a gospel music company; the railroad ran east and west through town, with connecting rails all over the United States, thus allowing the easy transport of paper and supplies as well as students.
Bartlett, president of the Hartford Music Company, printed from electrotype plates for his songbooks, published semiannually. The books were shipped all over the United States and were used at singing conventions and schools. Training schools, or “normals,” were held twice a year at Hartford to teach the shape-note style, which uses an assigned shape for each tone on an eight-note scale. This made it easier for the average person to read music.
The forerunner of the Hartford Music Company was the Central Music Company, owned by songwriter Will M. Ramsey and David Moore. Moore was a lifetime resident of Hartford who also owned the David Moore Store, selling organs, pianos, phonographs, and other musical instruments, along with music books, especially gospel. When Ramsey moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1918, Bartlett persuaded Moore and John A. McClung to partner with him in establishing the Hartford Music Company, with Moore as business manager. The companies merged in 1931 under the Hartford name, with Moore as business manager. By 1931, the company was printing and shipping more than 100,000 books a year to thirty-five states and two foreign countries. A branch plant was established in Nacogdoches, Texas, where 20,000 books were published each year. Other branches were in Fort Smith (Sebastian County); Powell, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Cullman, Alabama; and Houston, Texas. The company used more than 80,000 pounds of paper in these books, making it one of the state’s largest publishing companies.
Bartlett sold only 15,000 copies his first year. The usual price was twenty-five cents. He wrote most of the songs, though familiar hymns were added as fillers or by popular request. His most famous song that is still published today is “Victory in Jesus.” Bartlett formed the Hartford Music Institute to coincide with the Hartford Music Company, hiring instructors to teach voice, piano, piano tuning, rudiments, harmony, and stringed instruments.
When Bartlett retired in 1931, John McClung became president and sole owner of the company. He had co-owned it in the 1920s and bought it outright on February 20, 1931. He authored a number of songs, including “Just a Rose Will Do,” “Death Will Never Knock on Heaven’s Door,” and “Standing Outside.” Bartlett and McClung taught singing schools all over Arkansas as well as in Illinois, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Kansas.
After McClung died in 1942, the company was sold to Floyd Hunter, Waldo Pool, Otis Echols, and Oliver Cooper, who moved it to Hot Springs (Garland County). Albert E. Brumley (who wrote “I’ll Meet You in the Morning” and “I’ll Fly Away”) bought the company in 1948 and moved it to Powell, Missouri, where it is today as a part of the Brumley Music Company.
The Hartford Music Company was one of many such publishing companies in the first half of the twentieth century. The schools they held provided an outlet for their songs and easy access to “new” gospel music. Only a few remain, yet “convention style singing” is prevalent in many locations in Arkansas.
For additional information:
Crouch, Mary. Music from the Hills and Valleys. Hartford, AR: 2000.
Deller, David. “The Songbook Gospel Movement in Arkansas: E. M. Bartlett and the Hartford Music Company.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 60 (Autumn 2001): 284–300.
Hartford Music Company Collection. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
T. J. (McClung) Gibson
Van Buren, Arkansas
John R. Way
Last Updated 3/9/2016
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