Tag Archives: Shape Note

The Musical Million: The Ruebush-Kieffer Company, Singing Schools, and the Birth of Southern Gospel

By Gregg D. Kimball, Library of Virginia

Musical Million mastheadThe close of the American Civil War brought two young men back to a devastated Shenandoah Valley and an uncertain future. Aldine Silliman Kieffer had joined the Tenth Virginia Volunteer Infantry and campaigned with the Army of Northern Virginia until his capture and imprisonment in 1864. Waiting to greet him on his release from Fort Delaware was his brother-in-law and friend, Ephraim Ruebush, who had served in the Union Army. The war divided many Valley families, but Kieffer and Ruebush put the past aside and renewed their friendship.

Before the war, both had worked for Kieffer’s grandfather, the pioneering Mennonite music publisher and singing master Joseph Funk. Now Funk was dead and the business lay in ruins. These two men would revive Funk’s legacy and build a company that was the foremost publisher of sacred shape-note books in the nineteenth century South: the Ruebush-Kieffer Company of Singer’s Glen and later Dayton, Virginia, in Rockingham County. To honor that legacy, the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Chronicle website has launched a fully searchable run of the company’s music journal —The Musical Million: A Journal of Music, Poetry, and Chaste Home Literature. We give special thanks to Eastern Mennonite University and Simone Horst for facilitating the digitization of their copies of the journal. The Musical Million spread the Gospel of congregational shape-note singing far and wide and laid the groundwork for the proliferation of singing schools across the South.

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Shape-note hymnody came about because of a practical problem—Protestant denominations became convinced that the people of the church should praise the Lord through song, but how to accomplish this end was uncertain. Churchmen had long puzzled over how to lead congregational singing among the untutored and often illiterate. The first solution … read more »

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