AUSTIN TAYLOR (October 14, 1881 – January 1, 1973)

Austin Taylor was born October 14, 1881 in Morgantown, Kentucky to Garrard B. and Susan Holloway Taylor. His mother and father were baptized in 1868 in Caine Ridge, Kentucky, where about three thousand were added to the church in the very beginnings of the Stone-Campbell movement.

The Taylors moved to Sherman, TX in 1890. There Austin began his music career as a singing school teacher and song writer. Two of his outstanding teachers were Horatio Richmond Palmer (1834-1907) of New York, who wrote songs such as “Master the Tempest is Raging,” “Angry Words,” and “O Lord, Our Lord,” and Dr. Horace Neely Lincoln (1859-1948) of St. Louis who specialized in lyrics.

He taught many singing schools, teaching harmony and composition to thousands of students. He taught his first singing school in 1899 when he was eighteen years of age and his last 1972 when he was ninety-one years of age. One of the joys of attending the Texas Normal Singing School was the association with brother Taylor. He rode the bus from Uvalde to Sabinal early in the morning, twenty miles away and returned each afternoon. He never missed a day in that twenty-seven years.

His first song book, “The Gospel Messenger,” was published in 1905. He has published some twenty-five song books, just for [the] Firm Foundation in Austin, TX. His songs can be found in some fifty plus songbooks. Practically all the song books published by members of the church contain “Closer to Thee” and “Do All In the Name of the Lord.”

In 1908 he married Augusta Barbara Jerger. They soon moved from Sherman to Mineral Wells, TX. She caught typhoid fever while in Mineral Wells, prompting a move to Weatherford, Texas, as soon as she recovered in about 1909. They lived there for ten years, then in 1919 they moved to Uvalde where he lived the rest of his life. He told others that (he) the family was afraid of the Germans, this being during WW1, so they caught a train headed south. He would get off at a stop and ask if there were any Germans living there. If they said “Yes,” he would get back on the train. Finally, they arrived in Uvalde. There the answer was “No,” so they got off the train. He was a municipal judge and a land adjuster for the Federal Government as well as a song leader, teacher, and publisher.

In the early part of the 1900’s churches received their musical instruction by singing conventions. Taylor continued teaching of singing conventions and influenced many students to follow. Some of his students began the Hartford Music Company in Nacogdoches, TX. Albert Brumley became a student of the Hartford school and later bought out the company. Austin Taylor paid the way for Will Slater to go with him to some of his schools. Slater later became a publisher and had his business in Fort Worth, TX. Frank Grammer, another student of Austin Taylor’s, founded a publishing company in California.

Taylor told of some meetings he sang for in “far-out-destitute places” along the Texas-Mexico border on the Rio Grande River. One, in particular, was in Mirando City (east of Laredo about 30 miles) where the postmaster was a member of the church. Taylor slept on a canvas cot in the back of the post office and ate chili “until smoke came out both ears” and did not receive enough to pay his expenses there and back. He went next to a meeting in Tennessee where he was abundantly supported to make up for both places. In those days, he said, when a dollar was a big as a “wagon wheel,” he received more money for his services than he did in later years when conditions were more affluent.

When he returned from his travels and work, his wife never asked concerning the support he received. If he did not come out too well he said nothing; if he was well supported, all he said to her was, “The brethren were good to us.” When he left home for his travels, he always saw to it that his family had sufficient funds for their needs during his absence. One time when he was in Tennessee and needed to cash a check, he went to the bank and requested them to call his bank in Uvalde to prove his check was good. They offered to cash his check anyway, but he refused to accept the money until they called Uvalde, saying that he would pay for the call. When they called, the Uvalde bank said, “Austin Taylor’s check is good for whatever amount he is willing to sign his name to.”

When he arrived to sing for one of his first meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, some of the brethren wanted to know why they called a “cowboy” from Texas to lead the singing. The first song he chose was, “Lift Him Up,” by Oatman and Beall. With his unusually strong voice and excellent ability, he had the entire congregation singing the first song well. No further questions were asked concerning why they called the “cowboy” from Texas.

Some of Austin Taylor’s more famous statements are:

“Flooding the souls of men with the light and comfort of the gospel by the smooth, flowing melodies of the voice in song should not be overlooked or neglected. This kind of singing gives strength and courage to Christians and points sinners to Christ, their only true friend.” AT

“I have never been worthy of the favors and support the brethren have given me. More than 2,000,000 song books bearing my name have been published. I am still going forward in making songs, song books, and helping others to make them. The effect of gospel truth in song has not been well known. This field of opportunity of doing good is still undeveloped. Paul and Silas sang in jail, at midnight, while other prisoners listened. The singing of humble Christians is not a musical program.” AT

“Singing songs of rich, spiritual meaning gives encouragement, joy, peace, and happiness to the Christian. Let’s continue to press forward to love life and see good days, love God, and sing His praise.” AT

“The best and most happy people are the Lord’s church. It isn’t necessary to be rich and strong to serve the Lord. Show and deceit will not lead anyone to Christ. Preaching and singing the gospel and living its teaching will do the job.” AT

“While I was city judge several hundred children were brought before me charged with various things. I never saw one I did not regard as being better than the judge. We old heads are the ones that need bumping. Young people need help, kindness, teaching, protection, and a good example. Let’s give them a chance….” AT

“There is no legal excuse for any of us to be idle.” AT

Teaching conventions and singing for gospel meetings and revivals was a full-time career for Taylor. One of the famous preachers of that time was [Confederate] General Richard Montgomery Gano, a general during the civil war. Gano baptized about 1500 people. Many of these meetings were in the north Texas area. [Gano's log cabin was moved from its original site to the Dallas Heritage Village in 1974.] At one point, Taylor picked cotton for a while until he and some preachers got enough money to preach in “Indian territory” in Oklahoma. While he was singing there he lost his pitch fork and never got another.

Austin Taylor had created a good reputation for himself on the circuit of the singing conventions, so he started receiving many invitations to lead singing for gospel meetings. For many years this became one of his main works. Later in life he said his memory was failing, but he could remember 175 preachers that he had led singing for during meetings. Much of his time was spend working with Foy Wallace, Jr. and Horace Busby. He led singing in at least eleven different states.

“The largest crowd I ever led in singing was in Oklahoma City. There were more than 5,000 people present every night. I nearly cracked my voice leading them. I have led large crowds in Dallas, Fort Worth, Texarkana, Fort Smith, Saint Louis, Memphis, Nashville, Lexington, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Galveston, Waco, San Antonio, and Austin, but no crowd like the one in Oklahoma City. The Singing of gospel songs has been quite an experience.” AT

In 1911 Austin Taylor was appointed as music editor of the Firm Foundation Publishing Co. operated by G. H. P. Showalter. The majority of his song books were sold between 1910 and 1930. They were printed in Cincinnati. “When I went places I would use my books and the Firm Foundation would receive orders from all around—sometimes up in the thousands.” In 1914 he published Gospel Songs No. 2 for the Firm Foundation. It sold over 500,000 in one year. There were nearly one million of the paperback copies sold in a 15-year period. Taylor published over 50 different hymn books in his lifetime, many at his own expense.

While living in Sherman, Austin Taylor was having trouble completing one of his songs. It seems he had the words that he liked, but just could not settle on the melody or harmony. The wastebasket was literally filled with discorded compositions. Nothing seemed to satisfy him. A friend come by and inquired what he might be working on. After explaining his dilemma, the visitor reached into the wastebasket, pulled out a copy, flattened it out and after looking it over asked, “What’s wrong with this one? I like it!” The arrangement retrieved from the wastebasket that day in 1911, is the same we use today in the hymn “Closer To Thee.”

One of Taylor's sons wanted to go riding as a passenger on a two-seater airplane with a barnstormer. Taylor said no. While Austin was out of town on one of his trips, the boy slipped away and started the ride anyway. However, the plane crashed and the son was killed. Shortly afterwards, Taylor produced the song, “Home on the Banks of the River.” [I have not confirmed this and some of the facts given do not add up. The boy would have only been three at the most if this did happen in 1913. More likely this was Sidney Merwin Taylor, born in 1923 and died in 1941 in Uvalde. He would have been 18.]

John Nance Garner was Vice-President of the United States from 1933 to 1941. Living in Uvalde, his residence was near that of Austin Taylor and they knew each other as friends as well as professionally. One day, Garner called Taylor to let him know that the State of Texas was going to establish a state park in his honor and that they were looking for a tract of land. Austin, being a Federal Government land adjuster, knew of the perfect place. He had used it from time to time as a place of inspiration to think and to write hymns. The land was purchased and it became Garner State Park.

Austin Taylor is buried in the Uvalde Cemetery, with his wife Augusta.

A Song is Born / Robert Taylor / 2004 / Taylor Publications
Our Garden of Song / Gene C. Finley / 1980 / Howard Publishing Co.
The Songs of Austin Taylor / John R. Furr / Texas Normal Singing School