Vaughan Festival celebrates the man and his music

by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive

Whether you’re a fan of Southern Gospel music or not, you have to appreciate this community’s connection to the genre and its influence on other forms of music.

Southern Gospel emerged from “a beautiful sort of boiling American music pot,” as described in the awesome PBS series “Country Music.” Early immigrants to this region contributed the ingredients and it later became a building block for country and rock ‘n’ roll: think about Elvis and his Southern Gospel roots.

From the desk of the County Executive, David A. Morgan

James D. Vaughan was a music teacher, composer, publisher, songwriter, and entrepreneur who established a music publishing company in Lawrenceburg in 1903. The business developed into what we would call a media empire today.

Songbooks were the first endeavor, and a steady stream of them were published, filled with songs Vaughan and his stable of composers wrote. As many as 200,000 were sold each year, promoted through Vaughan singing schools held in churches throughout the South.

Congregations learned to sing Vaughan’s songs through the shape-note system, another old technique. A different shape represented each of the seven tones on the scale (Do, Re, Mi, Fa . . .) so anyone could be taught to carry the tune of a song, with or without instrumental accompaniment.

Vaughan also sent out traveling quartets – a total of 16 at one point – to perform and teach as far north as Illinois. Some performers originally came to Lawrenceburg’s Vaughan School of Music for vocal and instrumental instruction, and stayed on to work for the company.

The business also published a subscription newsletter, the Vaughan Family Visitor, which promoted Southern Gospel and dispensed spiritual advice. Vaughan produced phonograph records for a time, and owned the very first commercially-operated radio station in Tennessee, WOAN. 

Because he took Southern Gospel to the masses, Congress has declared Vaughan the Father of Southern Gospel Music, and Lawrenceburg its birthplace. Local leaders established the annual James D. Vaughan Quartet Festival to honor and celebrate the man and his music.

This year’s event is scheduled for Wednesday, July 26 through Saturday, July 29. The concert always features the best and brightest performers from the Southern Gospel world, and is a highlight of the year for fans. Many buy their tickets and reserve hotel rooms a year in advance. The Singing News, a nationally-distributed magazine, features the Crockett Theatre marquee advertising the event on the cover of its July edition.

Longtime host for the event is Josh Franks, a Southern Gospel singer and preacher who has grown up in front of this audience. Lawrenceburg’s The Kellys, a group that has its own rich history (and is still going strong) is host group.

This could be the year you fall in love with Southern Gospel Music. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 931-762-4231. You can also take advantage of two free matinees, set for Thursday and Friday at 1 p.m. All are held at Lawrenceburg’s historic Crockett Theatre.

The four-day lineup includes:

Wednesday, July 26, 7 p.m.: Mark Trammell Quartet, Mylon Hayes Family, Tribute Quartet, The Whisnants, and Whisnant, Hayes & Conkle

Thursday, July 27, 7 p.m.: The Inspirations, Gold City, Karen Peck & New River, and Old Paths Quartet

1 p.m. Matinee: Blackwood Brothers and Dixie Echoes.

Friday, July 28, 7 p.m.: Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, The Hoppers, Poet Voices, and Guardians

1 p.m. Matinee: Kellys Reunion (featuring former and current members), Josh & Ashley Franks.

Saturday, July 29, 2 p.m.: the Kingsmen, Chuck Wagon Gang, Down East Boys, The Perrys, and Bibletones.

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