Southern Gospel Historical Library

Southern Gospel Historical Library

I’ve covered in the past how southern gospel music has a vast library of music and film/video footage from decades of artists. I’ve also mentioned how much of this library is not controlled by large record labels or production companies, but in the hands of private collectors.

For example, Bill Gaither has repeatedly mentioned that he has a fireproof vault full of not just his own massive library, but archives from many artists of years past (some of which has surfaced in Gaither Gospel Series videos). In some cases, has even gone to the expense of having it restored and remastered (even if it’s not going to be immediately released to the general public). Other collectors may not quite go to this extent, but they definitely have access to rare, historical materials that would make even a casual SG fan jealous.

In recent years, however, some of these collections have found their way into the public consciousness, thanks to platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. Hours of historical footage are now available for streaming, but for all that’s now readily available, there are some distinct disadvantages, most of which being that we are at the mercy of what these individual collectors are willing to share.

For example, there are several Facebook groups that make some of this material available, but they are usually closed, private groups, meaning you must be approved to take part. In addition many of the materials shared are watermarked or somehow labeled as “exclusive” – not that that’s necessarily a problem, but it does mean that there are some noticeable separations between these groups (and what might be available for general historical references).

Recently, it was announced that the Southern Gospel Music Association had acquired the collection of one of the more well-known gospel music collectors. This collection consists of thousands upon thousands of recordings dating back to the early 20th century, with many in very good condition. This collection will be the basis for the
SGMA Research Library, which appears to be available to the general public for historical research purposes.

This actually is a great step towards not just preserving the history of this genre, but also making resources available to artists and fans alike – to an extent. Obviously, the content is going to be CAREFULLY controlled, and people aren’t just going to be able to check out a record from 1934, so being able to access this library is going to be dependent upon actually being there in person.

One option would be to make some of the material available online (similar to the how Facebook groups do now), but then you run into the question of copyrights, distribution rights, and broadcast rights, especially for audio recordings. It’s one thing to allow the public to hear one copy of a recording or view a video sourced from one physical media in a controlled environment; it’s another to make it widely available to a large number of people at the risk of being digitally duplicated. It could be PARTIALLY solved by setting up paid subscriptions to access the material, but you would still be limited to what is in the public domain unless you get express permission from the original rights holders.

This would be why the collectors keep what they make available behind private groups, I would guess….but that’s an argument for another day.

I could see this being of great benefit to current artists, producers, or labels seeking recordings of songs, or even sheet music from an old song, for reference, but again, you’d either have to get permission from the library to actually take the material, or you’d better be prepared to do all your work at the library (unless a duplicate were made, which again, raises questions of copyright).

I would’ve guessed this library would be based in Pigeon Forge, as the current SGMA Hall of Fame and Museum are located in Dollywood, but it’s actually reported to be housed in Hendersonville, TN, at Daywind Records’ facility. In either case, it means that, if you want access to any of it, you’d most likely need to make the trek to Tennessee.

I personally would make that trek, if only to get to sample of the material that has otherwise extremely difficult to obtain, but it would be more of a tourist trip as opposed to ongoing access.

Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at www.kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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4 Comments

  1. Reply March 29, 12:28 #1 Joe Mannon

    Just curious…..why did you not name the person that made the more than generous contribution of his collection to the SGMA? Also, it wasn’t clear whether the SGMA “….had acquired the collection of one of the more well-known gospel music collectors” meant that the SGMA purchased it, or if he gave it to them. I would think it would be important that people know who he is, either way. It was an absolutely wonderful act, on his part, in my opinion.

    • Reply March 29, 12:50 David Bruce Murray

      The name of Harold Timmons, the donor, will be mentioned in today’s News Nuggets article.

      Kyle’s article was focused more on the historical consequences of the research library itself and the importance of preserving these recordings for future generations.

  2. Reply August 11, 20:58 #2 David McKeith

    Great music site. Where do I search for older music, particularly male quartet.?

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