Society for American Music
Bulletin, Volume XXV, no. 3 (Fall 1999)
"Give the World a Smile" : A Professional Gospel Quartet of All-Stars, 1927-1932
By Rebecca L. Folsom, William Jewell College
When James D. Vaughan of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, owner of one of the largest and most successful
gospel music publishing companies in the South, introduced the first professional white gospel quartet in 1910,
he began a long line of hired professional singers whose services were used to promote the Vaughan
interest.1 Their first appearance at the meeting of the General Assembly of the
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Dickson, Tennessee, convinced Vaughan of the publicity value of
performing quartets.2 The formation of this first group ushered in the age of performing
quartets who promoted the sale of gospel music on their tours.
Following Vaughan's example, V.O. Stamps, a former employee of the Vaughan enterprise, and his brother
Frank opened a publishing company in 1924. The Stamps Music Company of Jacksonville, Texas, began as
a small business that eventually grew into one of the leading publishers of southern gospel music.
V.O. ran the office and edited their first songbook, and Frank formed the quartet to promote the music.
One of the four singers played the piano for the group. Often, their travels took them to local
singings and concerts. In 1926, V.O. collaborated with J.R. Baxter, Jr. to form the Stamps-Baxter Music
Company, based in Dallas, Texas. Because of this move, Frank's original quartet first changed
personnel and then disbanded.3
In 1927, Frank Stamps reorganized his quartet completely, adding a fifth man to play the piano. The
quartet was originally called the Stamps Quartet, but soon changed their name to the All-Star
Quartet. This group included Palmer Wheeler, first tenor, Roy Wheeler, second tenor, Otis Echols,
baritone, Frank Stamps, bass, and the fifth man, Dwight Brock, who became one of the first
"rhythm piano" players in gospel music. The addition of an accompanist as the fifth member of the
group was part of a trend in gospel quartets, and the "five-man quartet" soon became the standard
While V.O. operated the music publishing company in Dallas, Frank based his quartet in Chattanooga,
Tennessee. From there, they traveled throughout the South making personal appearances at concerts and
church gatherings. In their concerts, they not only sang gospel songs, but also performed some of the
popular music of the day.4 Each member of the quartet performed his own "specialty"
number, such as "Charlie My Boy," "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life," and other popular songs.5
After the formation of the All-Star Quartet, the members found themselves traveling constantly. They were
out of town for months at a time. Sometimes the quartet traveled during the week and
returned home on the weekend. The men usually traveled together in a five-passenger automobile
over roads that were, according to Brock, "nothing to write home about."6 Automobile
travel during the 1920s was not always comfortable.
Monetary rewards for quartet members during the late 1920s were practically non-existent. The members
of The All-Star Quartet were paid by two indirect methods. One involved the purchasing and selling
of the company's songbooks, two of which were published each year. The company sold several books
to each quartet member before a concert, who then, at intermission and after the concert, marketed
them. A quartet member was allowed to keep the profit from these sales, which might only amount to
enough for a meal that day.7 The All-Star Quartet's first tenor Palmer Wheeler recalled,
"Those were the days, going from town to town. Sometimes we ate hamburger, and sometimes we ate
steak. We had our oatmeal, cornmeal, and miss-a-meal."8
Occasionally, the quartet also charged admission to the concerts. Brock stated, "We just split
the income from our concerts. One part went for the car upkeep, and we split the rest."9
Although the quartet's small income did not limit their travels, at times they struggled to survive
and stay on the road. By the end of the summer 1927, the group was close to disbanding. Their
decision to perservere led to a pivotal event in the following months.
Because of their growing popularity from concerts and personal appearances, The Stamps All-Star
Quartet was approached by a talent scout from the Victor Recording Company in fall of 1927. The scout
offered the quartet a recording contract for fifteen hundred dollars. On 20 October 1927, the group
recorded their first songs for Victor in a temporary studio set up at the Grady Hotel in Atlanta,
Georgia. The two songs, George A. Minor's "Bringing in the Sheaves" and Fanny Crosby's "Rescue the
Pershing" were requested by Ralph Peer, who was supervising the sessions for Victor.10 After
recording those two numbers, Frank Stamps asked Peer if the group could record two more songs. Peer
agreed, and "Give the World a Smile" and "Love Leads the Way" were recorded.11 The
record containing both these songs became so popular that, according to Tommy Wheeler, it was the
first gospel recording to sell over one million copies.12 In turn, "Give the World a Smile"
became the theme song for The All-Star Quartet as well as later Stamps quartets.
Written in 1925, with music by M.L. Yandell and lyrics by Otis Deaton, "Give the World a Smile" was a
rhythmically dynamic song with a bass lead in the chorus. While the bass sang the strong melody, the
upper three parts sang on the after-beat. On the repeat chorus, the men sang "boom, boom, ping,
pang" in an imitation of a rhythm guitar. It was most likely this rather novel singing style, either
related to the fa-so-la solfeggio of the shape-note tradition or an adaption of "scat" singing so
popular in jazz of the day, along with Brock's rhythmic piano playing that appealed to the public.
When Yandell and Deaton collaborated on "Give the World a Smile," neither man had premonitions that it
would gain such popularity. In an article about the song, Deaton recalled,
In 1924, M.L. Yandell and I were both students in the Stamps School of Music, and had begun to write
gospel songs. We each sent a couple of songs to James Rowe [legendary lyricist of southern gospel
music] for him to write the lyrics. He wrote the words for all our songs except for one of Yandell's.
Rowe sent the manuscript back to Yandell, and said, "I am sorry, but I cannot feel the rhythm to this
music." It was the music to "Give the World a Smile." Yandell handed the manuscript and letter to me and
said, "Deaton, write some words for this." I took the song and worked on it that night and the
next day showed it to Yandell and Mr. V.O. Stamps. Mr. Stamps made us sing a little of the song and
then said, "Boys, I will give you five dollars each for that song." V.O. handed Yandell five dollars
and then turned to me and asked if I wanted five dollars for the words. I told him if the words were
worth that to him, they would be to me too. In 1925, I gave V.O. the words and permission to print
Although they did not profit excessively from this particular song, Yandell and Deaton eventually
became two of the leading composers of gospel music in the 1920s and 30s.
At the time of the Victor taping the men of the Stamps All-Star Quintet were not familiar with the method of
making recordings. As with any recording session, when the group finished singing the pieces the
sound technician played the material back to them. Original All-Star member Otis Echols recalled,
"When we heard those songs played back to us in the same microphone we had just sung into, we
country boys were thrilled. My hair stood straight on end and Palmer Wheeler jumped nearly fourteen
feet in the air."14
Their first recording was distributed to music stores on 16 December 1927. According to Brock,
When the record was released, the quartet was in Quickside, North Carolina. We received our first copy
while playing a concert there. that night we were staying in a boarding house and we borrowed a
record player from the owner of the boarding house. We wore that woman's player out playing the
record over and over to ourselves.15
Throughout 1928, the quartet continued to make records for Victor, using recording studios in Memphis and
Bristol, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.
By the end of 1928, changes in personnel were frequent and common for the quartet. The first change
occurred on 1 November 1928, when Frank Stamps took a "leave of abscence," and was replaced by
Mike O'Byrne on bass.16 This group recorded six songs for Victor. The second change in
personnel was quite significant. Palmer Wheeler, Roy Wheeler, and Otis Echols all left the group
to pursue other singing activities. Brock was unhappy to see his colleagues move on because he
respected their talents and cherished their mutual experience. In his words, "We had many good
times, and Palmer Wheeler was my favorite first tenor."17
Andy Hughes, first tenor; Henry Long, second tenor; and E.T. Burgess, baritone, filled the vacancies.
Frank Stamps returned as the bass, and Brock remained as pianist. This new "All-Star" quartet
made their first recording on 25 November 1929. During the following depression years of 1930-31,
the quartet performed as many concerts as was financially possible. Recording sessions were less
frequent, and most of the men in the group found other ways to support their families. Brock
remembered, "The Depression affected our concerts. Admissions were down as well as record sales. It
drove us off the road for a while."18 During the time, four of the quartet members worked as
composers, editors, and shipping clerks for the Stamps-Baxter Company.
In 1932, the All-Star Quartet reassembled to complete recording contract obligations to Victor Records.
By this time, the personnel of the All-Star Quaret had changed again. Otis McCoy sang first tenor, J.R.
Baxter sang second tenor, Brock sang baritone, Frank Stamps sang bass, and at the piano was Frank's
new bride, Sally Stamps. Although Brock had always had inhibitions about singing, Stamps needed the
former pianist to sing in order to complete the quartet's contract. The group made the required
recordings on 15-16 February 1932, and after this recording session, was disbanded.19
There were, however, further attemps to bring the group back together. In 1937, Palmer Wheeler, Roy Wheeler,
Otis Echols, and Frank Stamps began to sing together again. The one original quartet member missing
was the pianist, Brock. These men re-structured the group with pianist Lawrence Ivey and performed
in concerts and on radio shows, but did not record. In 1938, Otis Echols and Palmer Wheeler again found
other opportunities and left the group. Frank replaced the two men and continued his efforts until
the death of V.O. Stamps in 1941. With this event, Frank disbanded the quartet and moved back to
Dallas. Because of the quartet's success, no other Stamps-Baxter singing groupo was referred to as the
The perserverance and originality of this first Stamps quartet enabled the gospel industry to drastically
increase in popularity. They were the first white gospel group to record for a major recording label
and, in turn, their success with the selling of "Give the World a Smile" opened recording opportunities
for other quartets. This quartet's promotion of an important gospel publishing company allowed for the
creation of new businesses and livelihoods for many, including the employees of the Stamps-Baxter
Company. Many gospel musicians followed their example and created other publishing firms, and
subsequently other promotional quartets. As the twentieth century progressed, the industry changed
and the promotion of white gospel music by the traveling quartet lost its viability as a marketing
strategy. Although quartet style has evolved with time, the work of these early pioneeers paved the
road for future creativity in the field of white gospel music. Although the members of the quartet
never became rich from their efforts, certainly the All-Star Quartet "gave the world a smile."
1. Jo Lee Fleming, "James D. Vaughan, Music Publisher, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee: 1912-1964" (d.S.M.
diss., Union Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, 1972), 55.
3. Tommy Wheeler, interview with the author, 25 July 1996, tape recording.
6. Dwight Brock, "Here and There," Gospel Music News 41 (April 1973): 3.
8. The Stamps All-Star Quartet Reunion, Spring 1973, Dallas, Tex., Cassette recording from the
personal collection of Tommy Wheeler, Desoto, Tex.
9. Dwight Brock, Interview by George Draper, 24 May 1987, Dallas, Tex., Transcript, 3.
11. Wheeler. A minor discrepancy exists in the fact that the Victor recording log for the session
lists "Give the World a Smile" first. According to Tommy Wheeler, the matrix on the log does not
indicate the recording order, but rather the release order. In addition, Tommy recalls his father,
Otis Echols, and Ralph Peer (manager of Victor at the time) as stating that "Give the World" was
recorded after 'Bringing in the Sheaves" and "Rescue the Perishing." Tommy's recollection is reinforced
by the fact that the recording contract was based "Bringing" and "Rescue," the pieces were requested
by Peer when he approached the group in Fall 1927. It is certain that all four songs were recorded
on 20 October 1927.
13. Otis Deaton, "Give the World a Smile," Gospel Music Hi-Lites (August 1966): 12.
14. All-Star Quartet Reunion tape.
17. Brock interview.
19. Wheeler interview.
Rebecca L. Folsom received both a Doctor of Musical Arts degree and a Master of
Music degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas city. A classically trained singer, Dr. Folsom has roots in the
White Southern Gospel tradition. Her grandfather, Dwight Brock, was the original pianist for the
Stamps All-Star Quartet, a composer for the Stamps-Baxter Music company, and eventually President
of that publishing firm. Dr. Folsom is Assistant Professor of Music at William Jewell College where
she teaches vocal pedagogy, vocal literature, Italian diction, applied voice and other voice