The genre of music known as 'Southern Gospel Quartet Singing' had its roots in southern and western Americana beginning back in 1902. A man by the name of James D. Vaughn started a music company in Lawrenceburg, Tennesee that printed sheet music, hymnals, and other musical material for churches.
By 1910 Vaughn's company was one of the largest gospel music publishers in the U.S. But he wanted to expand further. Vaughn wanted to put a male quartet on the road to travel to various churches across the country in order to sing at what was known as 'all day singings and dinner on the grounds.' These events were popular all over the south and southwest.
Vaughn figured that by sending a professional quartet out to sing his published material, they could sell his various wares on the road, and thus, his business would vastly expand. Thus, when Vaughn's quartet hit the road in 1910, Southern Gospel Quartet Music was born.
Vaughn's venture was so successful that another company started in Texas by the name of Stamps-Baxter Music, founded by V.O. Stamps and J.R. Baxter. The 2 men took the concept of using of quartets to sell their songbooks to a new level. Not only did the company send out a professional quartet, but at one time Stamps-Baxter had a half-dozen or more quartets on the road singing his new music and selling that music.
Some of the most famous gospel singers of the last half of the 20th century got their start in music, and their training I might add, through the Stamps-Baxter Music Company.. These include Glenn Payne, George Younce, Jake Hess, Hovie Lister, Les Beasley, J.D. Sumner, James Blackwood,and many more. Known as 'quartet men,' these singers were known for their polish, professionalism, and class.
J.D. Summer's career began to take off when he joined a group known at the time as 'the Sunshine Boys.' Eventually he would join The Blackwood Brothers Quartet as their bass. It was during that time with the Blackwoods that Sumner earned his recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records as the lowest bass singer in the world--an honor he kept for 30 years.
During this time the various Stamps-Baxter quartets fell by the wayside as the need for them changed. Churches could get their music in various ways, and then recordings came along, and customers could hear the songs on LP vinyl.
During the 60s after spending significant time with the Blackwood Brothers, J.D. decided he wanted to resurrect one of the old Stamps Quartets and call it 'J.D. Sumner and the Stamps.'
The group gained recognition quickly because it had a famous name, and J.D. was already well-known in the music world as the lowest bass singer ever. They appeared on many country music programs in the 60s, such as Buck Owens' weekly show in California. J.D. was also a mentor to none other than the late Elvis Pressley, who grew up in Memphis, the home base of the Blackwood Brothers. A young Elvis loved southern quartet singing but did not have the money to attend concerts. J.D would let Elvis in the back door for free. And a long friendship began.
Elvis never forgot the kindness shown to him by J.D. and once remarked to him that 'if I did what I truly wanted to do, I would sing quartet music like you guys.' And that was when Elvis was a superstar.
In the 70s Elvis used Sumner and the Stamps as a backup group. He also allowed the quartet to sing 3 or 4 gospel songs all by themselves on his road shows.
The following video of J.D. Sumner and the Stamps is taken from a 1967 broadcast of the Buck Owens Show back when Owens was perhaps the biggest star in country music. J.D.'s voice was in its prime at this point, and here he sings a mighty good bass lead, but also demonstrates why he was listed in the Guinness Book for so many years. Notice the double-octave J.D. manages to slide down to near the end of the song.
You will love this song--J.D. Sumner and the Stamps singing 'The Wayfaring Stranger.'