In the early 1930s, the congregation at Harrison’s First Baptist Church looked forward to the times when E.M. Bartlett would be back in town. He would always be counted on to sing some of his beautiful songs. Eugene Monroe Bartlett spent his life sharing his love of music with others. In 1930 and 1931, the man who would write the well-known and much-loved hymn, “Victory in Jesus,” called Harrison home.
Bartlett was born in 1885 in Waynesville, Missouri, but his family would soon move to Sebastian County, Arkansas. At an early age, Bartlett showed an aptitude for music, although his formal education was sporadic and often interrupted.
David Deller, in an article for the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, said that Bartlett returned to the fifth grade at the age of 26. An embarrassed Bartlett once told Albert Brumley that he “had to sit there with those little old 60-pound fifth grade kids.” Bartlett would eventually earn a college degree.
In 1918, Bartlett co-founded the Hartford Music Company in Hartford, Arkansas. The company would become one of the most influential proponents of “songbook gospel.” In its heyday, the company sold up to 100,000 copies of its songbooks each year.
In 1921, Bartlett founded the Hartford Music Institute, where he mentored aspiring young song writers. He was remembered as an excellent teacher and a “jolly” man. His most famous student was Brumley, a young man from Oklahoma whose most well-known work was “I’ll Fly Away.” Brumley also for a time called Harrison home.
Bartlett had a reputation as a humorist, and he recalled his first meeting with Brumley. The young man was so thin, Bartlett joked, “that he was wearing a double-barreled shotgun for trousers the day they met.”
Bartlett wrote over 500 songs.
“Later gospel music veterans also spoke of Bartlett in slightly awed tones,” Deller wrote.
Bartlett’s humor and playfulness was exhibited in his occasional country song. Probably his most well-known county tune was “Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait),” which was recorded by Little Jimmy Dickens. Country music great Hank Williams starting calling Dickens “Tater,” and the nickname stuck.
In 1931, Bartlett stepped down from his positions at Hartford Music Company and the Hartford Music Institute. According to Deller, in the mid-1930s, Bartlett and Brumley ran the short-lived Bartlett Music Company in Harrison.
In October of 1935, Bartlett returned to his one-time home town. Harrison hosted the Arkansas State Music Association convention, and Bartlett was one of the attendees. Held at the Community Hall, a gymnasium located on Capps Road, the two-day event drew 4,000 people from several states.
Clay Richesin of Harrison was the president of the association.
According to a Daily Times story, the “object of the convention (was) the increase and diffusion of musical knowledge among its members.
Featured singers at the convention included the Melody Sunbeam quartet from Faulkner County, Arkansas; the E.M. Bartlett quartet from Hartford, Arkansas; the Virgil Stamps quartet from Dallas, Texas; and the Shelton brothers (Harry, 14, Charlie, 12, and Glen, 10).
The opening session featured Charles Childers Jr., 13, of Monticello, Arkansas. He was one of the youngest of the convention’s directors, and he directed the convention in singing several songs.
The Hartford Music Company provided songbooks for the convention. Other publishing houses contributing books were the Stamps-Baxter Publishing House of Dallas, Texas and the Morris Henson Publishing Company of Atlanta, Georgia.
Bartlett served as the chairman of the Obituary Committee, and he read an obituary of Rev. Moody of Hot Springs.
Bartlett was later inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.
He died on January 25, 1941. He was buried in Siloam Springs.
This is article is part of a series about Boone County history and provided by the Boone County Heritage Museum. The museum is located at 124 South Cherry in Harrison. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday. Closed on Sunday and Wednesday. For more information on the museum, call 741-3312 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.