Unheard for 100 Years No Longer: A Graduate Student Adds Audio to Selections from the Spencer Collection

06

For the past two semesters, the DPG has been working with Baylor University Museum Studies graduate student Hannah Haney Lovell on her graduate project, which involved adding a batch of new items to the Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music and enhancing them with recorded audio versions of those pieces. Last Friday, Hannah successfully defended her project in front of a group of her peers and the Museum Studies faculty, so we wanted to give a brief recap of her work here on our blog to celebrate!

Getting Started

Hannah came to me in the summer of 2013 after speaking with graduate adviser Dr. Julie Holcomb about what form Hannah’s final project for her master’s degree should take. After discussing several options, we settled on her working with the Spencer Collection in some capacity; given Hannah’s love of and background in music, it seemed like a natural fit. I agreed to serve as her project adviser, and she quickly set to work identifying materials to digitize as part of our ongoing work to digitize and catalog the sheet music from the Spencer Collection.

Hannah chose the subject area of Silent Movies as her starting point. Mrs. Spencer had assigned a large number of titles to this homegrown category, and the pieces included songs from actual movies as well as pieces inspired by movie stars, the social aspects of going to the movies and more. Hannah chose 155 items from the Silent Movies category and set about digitizing them on our newly-acquired CopiBook HD scanner. In fact, she was the first person to thoroughly utilize its scanning capabilities, as hers was the first project to get started up after it arrived in the RDC. (Thanks to Hannah for being a good sport/guinea pig for us!)

The Trouble With Scheduling

Digitizing the materials went smoothly, and Hannah generated a series of scans to be sent to our off-site music cataloging contractor, Flourish. Flourish takes the materials we send them and creates rich metadata files for us to add to the digital object once it’s ready for upload. Hannah incorporated Flourish’s metadata with her scans and added the 155 pieces to the Spencer Collection during the Fall 2013 semester.

All along, Hannah and I had planned on adding an audio component to her pieces that would enhance the user experience by giving them a tangible sample of what these pieces sounded like when performed by musicians and vocalists. Hannah spent many hours working to schedule performers from several student music performance groups who had volunteered to add their piano performances and/or vocal performances to the project, and we scheduled a recording session for a Monday night in late February.

The drawback to relying on undergraduate students – who are, by nature, a harried and … well, sometimes flaky bunch – is that they tend to need lots of corralling and getting them to stick to a plan is difficult. Unfortunately, through no fault of Hannah’s, the various performers who had committed to help with the recording process had to back out at the last minute; a rescheduled date for the following week met a similar untimely end.

Rather than get discouraged, Hannah came up with an alternative: using a music generation software called Finale, she would utilize the scans of the sheet music to create high-quality MIDI files of a subset of the collection. This would give users an example of the piano part and a computer-generated vocal line of the main melody, resulting in a very representative example of what the pieces sounded like without relying on human performers (and their tendencies to have busy lives, scheduling conflicts, etc.).

Ultimately, Hannah generated MIDI files for five pieces from her curated collection of scores, a remarkable turnaround in the last few days running up to her schedule defense date. The resulting pieces are listed below; the audio files are presented as MP3s within the structure of each score’s digital compound object.

Hannah’s project taught us a lot about enhancing our digital collections, including alternatives to live performances, selecting materials from a larger sample, and insights into how to utilize student labor to its best effect.

We extend our congratulations to Hannah on her successful completion of her project, and we’re thankful for the work she’s done for us over the past year. Click on the links below to hear the results of her labor, and let us know what you think of this new feature for our Spencer Collection!

01

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the 10 Cent Movie Show (1913)

02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Go Into a Picture Show (1909)

03

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Moving Picture Ball (1920)

05

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Me to the Movie Show (1919)

04

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Your Girlie to the Movies (If You Can’t Make Love at Home) (1919)

 

“Confuse Me, I’m Irish”: Evaluating Unusual Irish-Centric Sheet Music From The Early 1900s

Pictured: cognitive dissonance. From "The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago." 1920.

Pictured: cognitive dissonance. From “The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago.” 1920.

 

As anyone with a pulse will recall, this past week saw the annual celebration of all things Irish: St. Patrick’s Day. And like any culturally specific holiday, it was a rousing blend of traditional folklore, modern contrivance (everyone should drink green beer, just like the Real Irish People Do!) and a smattering of stereotyping. And while modern society has, for the most part, toned down its outright offensive tendencies on days like St. Paddy’s (or Patty’s – there’s actually an ongoing argument online about that one), it wasn’t that far back in our history that the very real plight of Irish Americans was portrayed in popular culture in a starkly different way.

While browsing our Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music earlier this week in pursuit of some new material for our Tumblr, Digitized and Randomized, I went straight to a set of results based on Mrs. Spencer’s category, “Ethnic-Irish.” I got more than 300 results, and they ran the gamut from patently offensive to heartbreaking and everything in between. And so I thought it would be fun to examine some of the more unusual pieces of music from the Irish category, especially those that feature Irish protagonists in strange situations.

How Did We Get Here?

Before we jump into our results, it’s worth a quick peek into the history of Irish Americans prior to the mid-1900s (the time when the pieces we’ll examine were all created). In the late 1800s, Irish immigration to America had seen hundreds of thousands of men, women and children arriving in the U.S. and swelling the ranks of established Irish neighborhoods in East Coast cities as well as strongholds in the South. As the poorest of all immigrant groups to arrive in the U.S. in the 19th century, they often took dangerous, low-paying jobs. Add to this fact a tendency for urban neighborhoods to be crowded, unsafe and unsanitary, and you began to see a rise in alcohol abuse and crime – two stereotypical traits assigned to Irish Americans in the popular culture of the day (as we’ll see below).

Other sources of “inspiration” for the pieces we’ll explore today include the long-standing (and often violent) split between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants; the alleged belligerence and/or violent tendencies of Irish men; the supposed moral and intellectual inferiority of the Irish; and the pervasive myth that the Irish are perpetually inebriated. As composers of the early 20th century set pen to paper in the pursuit of filling the American public’s insatiable appetite for musical entertainment, they kept these “facts” and half-truths about Irish Americans in mind, spawning pieces that drew on Irish Americans’ fond remembrances of their native culture (example) to anti-Irish sentiment (example).

An Irish Pharoah?

But understanding pro- and anti-Irish sentiment is a relatively easy task compared to puzzling out the meanings behind our featured pieces for this week’s post. They are loosely gathered around a pair of themes: the Irish protagonist in an unfamiliar setting and/or the presence of Irish where audiences wouldn’t expect to find it, like our first piece: The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago.

"The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago" by Chris Smith. 1920.

“The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago” by Chris Smith. 1920.

 

The visuals on this piece are particularly striking, with a typical desert scene set before the pyramids mixed with the cognitive dissonance of a repeated shamrock motif on the throne of an Egyptian queen. The central conceit for this piece is that the narrator has deciphered a startling fact from the “weird and cryptic” writings found “upon the tombs that dot Sahara’s sands”: the Irish were Egyptians long ago – “Just read between the lines and you will know.”

The “proof” of their ancient Egyptian heritage is given as the fact that the pyramids were built by manual labor (“It must have been the Irish who build the Pyramids / For no one else could carry up the bricks”); the Nile was dug by a tough, brave man (“For no one but an Irishman would fight a crocodile”); and the drovers of desert caravans had to have been named Houlihan, Mac or O.

This piece achieves a strange blend of whimsy (adding shamrocks to a typical Egyptian scene) and humor with negative stereotyping of not one but two cultures. This two-front offensive is also evident in our next piece, Since Arrah Wanna Married Barney Carney.

"Since Arrah Wanna Married Barney Carney," by Theodore Morse and Jack Drislane. 1907.

“Since Arrah Wanna Married Barney Carney,” by Theodore Morse and Jack Drislane. 1907.

 

Another “humorous” piece that trades on the unexpected mashup of two traditionally oppressed and/or caricatured cultures, this piece details the chaos that naturally followed when an Indian princess (Arrah Wanna) marries an Irishman named Barney Carney. It seems all it took to completely disrupt Native American culture (at least as the stereotypes would have it) was for one woman to marry a man from Erin, as evidenced by such strange occurrences as:

– “[n]o more do the Indians put paint upon their face”

– “The tom-toms play the ‘Wearing of the Green'”

– “The wigwams are full of Irish Blarney”

– “The Pipe of Peace is made of Irish clay”

There are more, but you get the picture. The introduction of an outsider of Irish origin upsetting the local culture (or attempting to assimilate into it in unexpected, humorous ways) will be repeated in our remaining pieces, each with the theme of romantic interest as a primary motivator. Up next is our final example of an Irishman falling under the guile of a “foreign” culture: O’Brien is Tryin’ To Learn To Talk Hawaiian.

"O'Brien Is Tryin' To Learn To Talk Hawaiian" by J. Rennie Cormack. 1916.

“O’Brien Is Tryin’ To Learn To Talk Hawaiian” by J. Rennie Cormack. 1916.

 

Here, a hapless tourist from Ireland arrives in the Sandwich Isles (the name given to the Hawaiian Islands by Capt. Cook in the 1700s) and discovers the native women to be of such beauty that he instantly forgets his wife at home in the presence of a “lovely Hula dancer down beside Hawaii Bay.” Pat O’Brien, our protagonist, is revealed to be a skilled performer in his own right (“He won Bridget, Kate and Mary by singing ‘Tipperary’ / And he’ll win his Lulu too”) who is so moved by the girls’ beauty that he attempts to learn her native tongue, to hilarious results. In addition to being a standard “man falls in love with beguiling, exotic beauty” tale, there’s also the opportunity for lyricist Al Dubin to mock the languages of both Ireland and Hawaii, as in this tongue-twisting passage:

He’s sighin’ and cryin’ and all the time he’s tryin’
Just to say “I love you true”
With his “Arrah Yaka Hula Begorra Hick Dula”
And his Irish “Jiji Boo”

We never learn if this would-be suitor succeeds in his philandering pursuits, but we’ll leave him at his studies (“Hawaiian’s hard to get with an Irish alphabet”) and shift our attention to two pieces where the object of the narrator’s affection is a woman of Irish heritage. The first is set in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and bears the title Santiago Flynn.

"Santiago Flynn: A Spanish-Irish Episode" by Theodore F. Morse and Edward Madden. 1908.

“Santiago Flynn: A Spanish-Irish Episode” by Theodore F. Morse and Edward Madden. 1908.

 

This piece relates a tale of two would-be lovers: Santiago Flynn (“He dressed like a Spanish grandee / He rode on a pony thin”) and an Irish Rose who lived on a nearby plantation. Though Rose liked the cut of Santiago’s jib (“She cried, ‘You’re a hot tamale'”), she regrets that she can only marry a man from Ireland. And then, to our surprise (SPOILER ALERT!), Santiago reveals his secret:

“He jumped in a wild fandango
He cried with an Irish grin
‘Tho born underneath the Mano
My father was Paddy Flynn’

And so was Santiago able to gain access to his lover’s abode (“She cried ‘Come in, Mister Flynn / I’ll never say again'”) and all ends well for our protagonist. It should be noted that this piece uses a particularly unpleasant slur used in reference to Santiago’s outward appearance, so be ready if you click over to read the lyrics in full.

Our last piece combines the exotic (an Egyptian setting) with the romantic, the stereotypical and the allure of an Irish woman’s beauty, all under a ridiculous title: Cleopatricola.

"Cleopatricola (Cleo-patrick-ola" by Jean Schwartz and Alfred Bryan. 1920.

“Cleopatricola (Cleo-patrick-ola” by Jean Schwartz and Alfred Bryan. 1920.

 

This piece comes closest to embodying all of the elements we’ve discussed so far into one semi-coherent package. Rather than post excerpts of the lyrics, I’m choosing to reproduce them in full:

VERSE
Once I took a camel ride
Far across the desert wide
Met a maiden way down by the Nile
As I sat down by her side
Her entrancing form I spied

Then she gave me a sweet Irish smile
She told me that she was born in Erin
Cleopatricola was her name
Mighty soon my love I was declarin’
I spoke these words and set her heart aflame

CHORUS
Cleopatricola Cleopatricola
tell me what to do
By my heart and soul O Cleopatricola
I’m in love with you

There I found my Shamrock in Sahara
By the River Nile so fresh and green
Cleopatricola Patricola,
My Egyptian Colleen

VERSE
As the sun was going down
We went down to Cairo town
Met King Pharaoh and all of his crew
First we read the Rubaiyat
Then we had a little chat
Played Casino with Pharoah till two

She told me that she was “jipt” in Egypt
And that King Rameses was the blame
He told her she’d be a queen of Sheba
And spoke those very words before I came
(Repeat CHORUS)

This one’s got it all: a fish-out-of-water, a besotted suitor, a jilted lover, Irish motifs (the shamrock), local flair (Casino and the Rubaiyat) and Irish slang (referring to Irish women as Colleens). Add that to what I consider the best example of cover art of the pieces we’ve examined today – she looks like an Egyptian princess by way of Zelda Fitzgerald – and you have a winner in the category of Wait, Did I Seriously Just Read A Song About An Irish Person Doing WHAT?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this lighthearted look at some of the stranger pieces from our Irish subcategory in the Spencer Collection. There are no end of interesting pieces in the Spencer Collection, and we’ll be taking a look at them again from time to time. ‘Til then, if you find any fun examples of cross-cultural curiosity, send us a tip at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu. See you next week!


For more examples of Irish-themed sheet music in the Spencer Collection, click here. Special thanks to our friends at the Crouch Fine Arts Library for the partnership that brings the Spencer Collection to you via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections!

This Train is Bound for D.C.: The Smithsonian-Baylor Digital Projects Group Black Gospel Collaboration Confirmed!

 

Our thoughts on today’s news, as captured by this album from The Trumpets of Jericho.

Some big news regarding the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project was made official this weekend via the social media of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC): the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP), managed and maintained by our own Digital Projects Group, will become part of the permanent collection when the museum opens its doors in 2015!

According to the story from the NMAAHC’s Tumblr, we will contribute highlights from the collection for incorporation into an exhibition called the Musical Crossroads. From the Tumblr:

This permanent exhibition will tell the story of African American music from the arrival of the first Africans to the present day.

Both [NMAAHC curator Dr. Dwandalyn] Reece and [Baylor journalism professor Robert] Darden see these recordings as important additions to the new museum for the stories they can help tell. While planning for the exhibition is ongoing, the Baylor recordings may be used to explore the importance of gospel music to the civil rights movement.

Featuring select recordings from Baylor’s growing digital collection in the Smithsonian will give visitors an opportunity to learn these stories and to listen to many gospel recordings that may otherwise have been lost to history.

Dr. Reece also pointed out the ways is in which materials from the BGMRP can help us better understand the impact of black gospel music at a regional level:

The recordings may also be used to highlight the regional diversity of early gospel music. “Not all gospel recordings made during the pinnacle of gospel’s popularity were made on major labels,” Reece explained. “Many were done in connection with local churches and there are differences in style based on where these types of recordings were made.”

The collaboration announcement post, via the NMAAHC’s Tumblr page.

The project was sparked in 2005 by an op-ed piece written by Prof. Darden for the February 15 edition. In it, he bemoaned the loss of America’s recorded collections of black gospel music. That appeal generated a lead gift from collector Charles M. Royce that funded equipment and the first audiovisual specialist, Tony Tadey. From there, Prof. Darden’s tireless promotion combined with the technological and information handling mastery of the DPG to create a collection of more than 8,000 digitized tracks, 1,200 of which are available online with more added regularly. (For more on the history of the project, please visit the project website.)

We are obviously quite excited to be partnering with an institution with such an august reputation and world-wide name recognition as the Smithsonian Institution, and we look forward to working closely with Dr. Reece and her team at the NMAAHC in the coming months.

The Digital Projects Group is a part of the Electronic Library, a special collection within the Baylor University Libraries. DPG staff involved with the BGMRP are Assistant Director for Digital Projects Group, Darryl Stuhr; Audiovisual Specialist, Stephen Bolech; Digital Collections Curator, Eric Ames; and Digitization Coordinator, Allyson Riley.

For More Information

Read the NMAAHC’s Tumblr post

Read our previous blog post about the partnership

Visit the BGMRP homepage

View the BGMRP collection via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections

Visit the NMAAHC website

Email us at digitalcollectionsinfo[at]baylor.edu

“There’s No Hiding Place Down Here” – Confronting the Challenging Content in Our Collections

Inset from 1980 Soviet anti-American propaganda poster entitled “Svoboda po Amerikanski,” (“Freedom the American Way”) from the Keston Digital Archive. The poster accuses the American system of suppressing freedom of speech (“opinion”) by bribing the judicial system, represented by the dollar signs in the magistrate’s eyes.

The Digital Projects Group serves as the central source for digitizing materials from Baylor’s special collections libraries and other on-campus institutions. This puts us in the unique – and sometimes difficult – position of passing materials through our workflow that contain challenging and, occasionally, blatantly offensive content. In many instances, that content passes through the hands of our student workers and graduate assistants. And if these materials aren’t placed in their proper context, or if there are no opportunities for students to talk about the emotions and thoughts they experience when handling them, it can add an unwanted layer of discomfort and awkwardness to our work.

This potential challenge is a greater likelihood in some collections than others. You’re much less likely to see negative stereotyping or racially insensitive materials in a collection of famous Baptist sermons than you would be in a set of anti-semitic brochures collected for decades by a professor in the Department of Church-State Studies. But even seemingly innocuous collections can harbor unpleasant glimpses of the past, so it’s important to have a process in place to help our student workers – and, in some cases our researchers – process what they’re finding in our digital collections.

The Trouble With Perspective

I once heard it said that people’s historical perspective begins on the day they’re aware of their own uniqueness. In other words, it’s impossible for us to completely embrace the complex blend of social conventions, viewpoints, events and cultural touchstones that existed before we were born, as we all instinctively judge the present through the lens of how it developed from the time of our childhood up to the present day. We can intellectually grasp a concept – “People once thought illness was caused by vapors, not germs! Isn’t that funny!” – but it can be difficult to fully appreciate the internal motivations of events carried out and documented by people who lived in the past.

For a simple test of what I’m talking about, take a look at the following image and see what comes to mind.

If you were alive and aware of the world in 1963, you’ll immediately recognize this as a still from the Zapruder film, one of the most famous artifacts attached to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But for many 19-year-old undergraduate students, this may as well be a vignette from the Bayeux Tapestry for all the relevance it has on their daily life – at least as far as they’re concerned. However, if you show them an image like this …

… their perspective changes radically. The September 11, 2001 attacks occurred during their lifetime, and while they may only have been in elementary school at the time, they can tell you exactly what was happening the day they saw the Twin Towers fall, much as a Baby Boomer can pinpoint their location on the day Kennedy was shot.

The challenge of perspective is difficult enough to address with a subject as complex and nuanced as a presidential assassination or America’s worst terrorist attack, and those are events that happened within the span of living memory. But what does it look like when our students face materials created more than a half-century before their parents were born?

Universally Offensive?

A surprising source of challenging content is our Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music. While the entire collection contains some 28,000 pieces, the initial offerings digitized and placed online were chosen from a list of Mrs. Spencer’s own subject headings. They examine a variety of topics, but among the most important are depictions of race and cultural identity in turn-of-the-19th-century America. The original subset was dubbed The American Melting Pot Collection.

The images contain equal opportunities for offending almost every possible ethnic and racial identity group in the country. Some titles are patently offensive by modern standards.

Cover of “Chung Lo: A Chinese Monkey Doodle” sheet music, 1909

Others are more subtle in their negative depictions.

Cover of “Minnie-Ha-Ha Donohue, An Irish-Indian Love Song” sheet music, 1908

Still others represent inaccurate or fictionalized interpretations of groups that lacked adequate means of expressing their own cultural identities in a medium like popular piano sheet music. In this piece, a woman with a bad reputation (a “good for nothing”) finds redemption by serving as a nurse during World War I.

Cover of “The Little Good For Nothing’s Good For Something After All” sheet music, 1918

Opportunities to Educate, Find Context

When our students and researchers come across images like these, it can be a shock to them, especially to college students who have grown up in an age of multicultural awareness and who are unused to seeing blatant racism on casual display in popular culture. In these cases, we take time to explain to them that while the material they’ve encountered may be discomforting or difficult to address, it is nonetheless a part of the historical record, and pretending it doesn’t exist will not magically negate it. Instead, we choose to present an uncensored window into our collections, allowing researchers and scholars the chance to assess each piece’s impact on our understanding of history without selectively “cherry-picking” only the materials that are safe and non-offensive.

In the handful of occasions when our students have approached us with material they find offensive, we have been quick to have honest, open discussions with them about their feelings and why we are making such materials a part of our digital collections. And in each case, they have seen the importance of including the offending piece. In fact, they often say something to this effect: “It happened in the past, and we can’t pretend it didn’t just by choosing not to scan it. We need to give people a chance to see history as it was so we can see how much things have changed for the better.”

When I hear reactions like that from students in their late teens and early twenties, it gives me great hope that we are educating a generation of scholars that sees archival resources for what they are: a collection of viewpoints, set in a fixed medium for preservation and use by future generations, by no means all-encompassing of every voice, but valuable simply for having been saved.

The Historical Context Statement appears on collections that may contain potentially sensitive materials.

For the general public that accesses our collections, they may encounter wording on a collection’s landing page that spells out our Historical Context Statement. This paragraph, drafted by DPG staff and vetted all the way to the top of the university’s administrative structure, notifies users that materials they are about to view may be difficult to experience due to their content, but should be taken as examples of the time, cultures and mores that produced them. They are also informed that Baylor University “does not endorse the views expressed in such materials.”

***

The documentary evidence of our cultural heritage contains many wonderful treasures. Personal reflections, institutional histories, official publications and unpublished manuscripts all offer insight into the minds and souls of the people who created them. And while researchers may encounter materials that challenge their contemporary values and beliefs, the richness of the subject matter – positive and negative – is an essential element to understanding what it means to be human.

How A Depression-Era Huckster’s Radio Station Brought God’s Word to Mexico – and Beyond – Via George W. Truett

This is the first installment in a special three-part blog series on the project to digitize and present online the final sermons of George W. Truett (1867-1944), noted pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and namesake of Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

One of the most interesting examples of God’s ability to use anyone – or anything – to serve Him is recounted in the twenty-second chapter of the book of Numbers. It is the story of Balaam’s donkey, and if you haven’t read it, do so now, for it demonstrates God’s ability to speak through even the dumbest of beasts when it will be the most effective means of getting the message across.

Balaam’s donkey is a particularly apt comparison to the strange story of how a “border blaster” radio station founded by a convicted medical charlatan would be used to broadcast the final sermons of a powerful Baptist minister to the citizens of three North American countries.

The Strange Case of John Romulus Brinkley

Our story begins with a man named John Brinkley. His was a fascinating life filled with accusations of bigamy, failed attempts to acquire a legitimate medical license, multiple (unsuccessful) campaigns to gain public office, a rise to wealth, a stint as a pioneer in radio broadcasting, and an ignominious, penniless death.

John R. Brinkley, c. 1921. Image via Wikipedia Commons.

Brinkley’s life is spelled out in agonizing detail in his well-researched Wikipedia entry, so we won’t get too in-depth with this post. Suffice to say, Brinkley was a man with a showman’s instincts and a scalawag’s morals, willing to lie, cheat and defraud to achieve his goals. But like many larger-than-life figures, he also showed bursts of genuine goodness, such as the time he used profits from his successful radio show to purchase a municipal sewer system and other much-needed amenities for the small town of Milford, Kansas.

After telling a male patient he would have no problems with infertility if he had a pair of “goat glands” in him, Brinkley hit on the idea of transplanting the reproductive glands of goats into patients – male and female – who were suffering from various ailments, primarily sexual dysfunction or infertility but also spinal tumors, dementia and even flatulence. Brinkley touted his “cure” with the claim that it would turn previously infertile men into the “ram that am with every lamb,” despite the fact that most patients merely absorbed the glands into their bodies with little or no evidence of an improvement in their underlying condition.

Not surprisingly, his actions drew the attention of the American Medical Association and the crusading physician who would eventually be his downfall. Morris Fishbein would publish a two-part series entitled “ Modern Medical Charlatans,” wherein he exposed Brinkley as a dangerous fraud. Brinkley sued Fishbein for libel, and Fishbein won the case after a jury found that Brinkley “should be considered a charlatan and a quack in the ordinary, well-understood meaning of those words.”

In addition to losing the libel case, Brinkley also faced investigations from the IRS and the U.S. Post Office late in his life. These challenges, combined with a loss of income and deteriorating health, culminated in his death in 1942, a penniless shadow of the man who once ran for governor of Kansas with the promise of providing lower taxes, old-age pensions and a lake in every county. (He managed to gain nearly 30% of the popular vote.)

A Radio Pioneer, But Old Habits Die Hard

As his goat gland “cure” began to turn significant profits in the early 1920s, Brinkley became interested in the power of the radio as a marketing medium and started a station in Kansas under the call letters KFKB. He used this new-found reach to promote his treatments, which he espoused for hours. He interspersing his sales pitches with a diverse range of programming that included, “military bands, French lessons, astrological forecasts, storytelling and exotica such as native Hawaiian songs.”

His success in radio boosted profits through the roof, but his roots as an old-school snake oil seller ran deep. Brinkley began a segment he called the “Medical Question Box,” where listeners wrote in with their various medical concerns which he addressed over the air. Inevitably, the perfect cure for whatever ailed listeners was a patent medicine available only at a pharmacy that participated in his “Brinkley Pharmaceutical Association.” It was estimated that Brinkley made more than $10 million per year (in current value) on the sale of these “medicines.”

Before the Federal Radio Commission shut it down, Brinkley’s station made him a multimillionaire. However, he saw a new opportunity to expand his empire by constructing a 50,000-watt station in Villa Acuña, Mexico, just across the U.S-Mexico border from Del Rio, Texas. Eventually, the Mexican government allowed him to up the wattage of XER to 150,000, making his station audible to citizens of Mexico, the United States and – on nights when the conditions were perfect – as far away as Canada. He resumed his patent medicine-selling ways, taking on new advertisers hocking everything from “genuine simulated” diamonds to autographed pictures of Jesus. During this period Brinkley also purchased Mexican radio station XED; he changed its name to XEAW before selling the station in 1939. XEAW’s new owner would form the link between Brinkley, the power of radio and the Word of God.

A New Owner for XEAW

Carr Collins was another Texas-sized personality when he enters our narrative in the late 1930s. Like Brinkley, Collins had made a sizable fortune selling a “cure” for a common ailment. His approach was to use the radio to sell “Crazy Crystals,” dehydrated minerals from the springs found at Mineral Wells, Texas. When they were re-hydrated and consumed, the crystals were purported to act as a laxative. Collins had also profited from his establishing the Fidelity Union Life Insurance Company, and in his last decades he would use his fortune to support numerous philanthropic causes.

In addition to his prowess as a salesman, Collins was a devout Baptist. He became involved with the leadership of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, where he came into contact with its influential and long-serving pastor, George W. Truett. At some point in the late 1930s or early 1940s, Collins’ station made the decision to broadcast a new kind of program.

Reaching the People of “Radio Land”

By 1941, Truett had entered into the final years of his life. But despite his advanced age and failing health, he continued to deliver weekly sermons and even preside over special week-long programs focusing on prayer, revival and revitalizing the faith of the people of Dallas. At some point in the early 1940s, he entered into an agreement with Collins to broadcast recorded versions of his weekly sermons over the air on XEAW. The sermons were recorded live in the pulpit at First Baptist Dallas on 16” radio transcription discs. These discs were then shipped to the port of entry at Hidalgo, Texas for shipment into Mexico via the city of Reynosa. They would eventually air on XEAW, typically a week later than the dates of their original delivery in Truett’s Dallas pulpit.

Side two of Truett’s sermon delivered on January 19, 1941. The other two sides are presumed lost.

Notes written on the existing discs’ labels indicate that an XEAW announcer would read the following script at the end of each broadcast:

“You have been listening to a message by Dr. George W. Truett, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. These messages will be presented over XEAW every Sunday evening at 9:30. Tell your friends and neighbors about these.”

Thanks to the joint efforts of two major Dallas citizens – the preacher and the businessman – the people of Mexico, Texas and the entire Southwest could hear the words of one of the biggest names in Southern Baptist history delivered directly to their homes.

The Discs Find New Life in Digital

At least 68 of these broadcast discs were created by the studios of Sellers, Inc. of Dallas. These discs made their way into The Texas Collection at some point after Truett’s death, where they have been preserved along with their original album sleeves. In the fall of 2012, the discs were delivered to the Digital Projects Group to take advantage of our analogue disc migration capabilities and the skills of audio/visual engineer Stephen Bolech.

After organizing the discs into chronological order, Stephen migrates them one side at a time. Because of the original setup used to record them in the 1940s – wherein an audio engineer used two turntables to record the entire sermon over the course of three album sides – Stephen will import three sides of audio and create preservation digital files for each side. Then, he stitches the audio together and enhances it to create the high-quality access versions you will find presented in our Digital Collections.

This approach is a slight departure from our standard operating procedure in that we are presenting “enhanced” audio as opposed to the un-tweaked, “raw” version you would hear in collections like the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. We chose to present the sermons in a listener-friendly, cleaner format both to aid in comprehension and because of the simpler nature of the audio’s original format – a single voice speaking alone, as opposed to numerous musicians and vocalists layered together.

In addition to the audio files, I am creating transcriptions of the sermons to add to the digital item. This will allow them to be keyword searchable and makes for a helpful aid for researchers interested in diving into the heart of Truett’s message.

All told, this means that each digital item includes a scanned image of all three sides of the discs, the enhanced audio of the sermon and a fully searchable transcript. In short, it is as complete a record as you will find online of any early 20th century preacher’s live, from-the-pulpit sermons.

What’s Next for the Collection?

We are working to complete phase one of the project by the end of the summer. This will mean putting all of Truett’s sermons from 1941 online by the end of August, with the sermons from 1942 and 1943 to follow shortly thereafter. The process for creating these records is a painstaking one, and we are committed to providing the highest quality resources for our users; hence, the staggered release. The first 17 sermons from the project are available now from the Truett Sermons Collection.

(Note: There are an additional 26 albums’ worth of Truett sermons available in this collection as well. These sermons were released by Word Records in the mid-1960s. We plan to create transcripts for these sermons in the future.)

Please take a few moments at your earliest convenience and head over to the collection to take a listen for yourselves. The sound of Truett’s voice, the focus of his message and the immediacy of its content cannot fail to strike a chord, and we encourage your feedback as you discover the items in this collection.

Next week’s blog post will focus on the content of the sermons themselves, from the types of subjects tackled to a brief examination of Truett’s inimitable style. Then, we’ll complete our Truett trifecta with a big announcement about another way you can engage with the collection that will combine 20th century preaching with 21st century technology. Stay tuned!

Sources Consulted:

Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, “BORDER RADIO,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ebb01), accessed July 19, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

“John R. Brinkley.” Wikipedia. Retrieved on July 22, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_R._Brinkley

George N. Green, “COLLINS, CARR P.,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fco90), accessed July 19, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Joan Jenkins Perez, “TRUETT, GEORGE WASHINGTON,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ftr16), accessed July 22, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.