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Stamps, Frank Howard
(1896 — 1965)
Frank Stamps was a native of Upshur County, Texas. He served in World War I, and then attended the Vaughan School of Music. When his brother, V. O. Stamps, formed a music company in 1924, Frank organized the Frank Stamps Quartet as a promotional group to represent the company’s songbooks.
In 1927, the Frank Stamps Quartet became the first to sign with a major record label, Victor Records. They had the first Southern Gospel hit record with "Give the World a Smile." When V. O. Stamps died in 1940, Stamps took over his brother’s duties at Stamps-Baxter for a few years. Ultimately, Stamps decided to leave Stamps-Baxter in the hands of J. R. Baxter and form his own publishing company, the Stamps Quartet Music Company.
With the backing of Stamps both at Stamps-Baxter and Stamps Quartet Music, many groups traveled under the Stamps name and promoted songbook sales. Frank continued to sing with various Stamps groups, including the company’s flagship group, the Frank Stamps All-Stars.
This group ultimately became known simply as the Stamps Quartet, and when Stamps retired from singing with the group in 1950 to focus exclusively on songbook publishing, the group continued to record for the next seven years as the Stamps Quartet. They changed the group name to the Plainsmen Quartet in 1957 and severed ties with the publishing company. A few years later, another Stamps Quartet was formed out of the publishing company, but Frank Stamps did not sing with them. He ultimately sold the company and the Stamps Quartet name to James Blackwood and J. D. Sumner.
In 1997, the SGMA Hall Of Fame posthumously inducted Frank Stamps and his brother.
Two Stamps and A Baxter
A series of significant events in the 1920s launched a legendary name in United States in gospel music. It all started in 1924 when VO Stamps formed the VO Stamps School Of Music. Stamps' brother Frank formed the first Stamps Quartet around the same time. Then in 1926, VO partnered with JR Baxter to form the Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company. They would become the most successful publisher of shape note hymn books in the United States. VO Stamps also formed a quartet of his own.
In 1927, the Frank Stamps Quartet signed a recording contract with RCA Victor records, making them the first southern gospel quartet to sign on a major label. They also had the first ever southern gospel hit single with "Give The World A Smile." In addition to their recordings, they were introducing innovative practices for the time. When Dwight Brock (brother to Lena "Mom" Speer) joined the group at the piano, he was one of the first to introduce instrumental "turnarounds" between the verses. This move also established the now revered "four guys and a piano" configuration for male quartet singing.
Groups using various versions of the Stamps name were active until VO's death in 1940. At one point, he even sued his brother Frank for using a duplicate (or nearly duplicate) name. The groups served a purpose that ultimately benefited from all the sharing, though. The Stamps-Baxter Company published songbooks, and selling them was a key source of revenue for the groups and for the company in turn. Over 100 groups used the word "Stamps" in their name.
Stamps Name Multiplied
After VO Stamps' death, Frank Stamps became JR Baxter's partner and took over his brother's duties in the company. He also left his own group, the Stamps All Stars, to sing in the group his brother had owned, the Old Original Stamps Quartet. Under Frank's influence, the publishing company began to arrange deals with many popular quartets of the day to sell Stamps-Baxter songbooks. In exchange, groups were allowed to use "Stamps" or "Stamps-Baxter" as part of their own name. The company also launched a number of groups with the Stamps name. The partnership lasted five years until Frank Stamps left his position with Stamps-Baxter and began a new company called Stamps Quartet Music Company.
The division did not bring about the end of the various Stamps Quartets, however. Members of groups owned by the Stamps company were swapped around like modern sports stars, only more frequently. The Stamps All Stars were promoted as the top group in the Stamps family, so any time a member would quit, the next best man was immediately moved into his place. Finally, the "All Star" designation was dropped and the group that had been the Stamps All Stars had come to be known simply as The Stamps Quartet. Frank Stamps decided to narrow his attention to publishing songbooks around 1950. The remaining group members recorded as the Stamps for a few years this, but ultimately changed the group name to the Plainsmen Quartet and parted ways with the publishing company. And so, the Stamps Quartet came to its first end.
First Rebirth (1962)
A few years later in the early 1960s, the Stamps Quartet was reborn, again as an outreach of the publishing company. Terry Blackwood, Smiling Joe Roper, Jerry Redd, Big Jim Waits, and Roger McDuff were members of the new Stamps around 1962. Ready for retirement, Frank Stamps sold his business to James Blackwood and J. D. Sumner a year or two later. By that point, the group included Big John Hall, Jim Hill, and Mylon Lefevre. In 1967, JD and James Blackwood "swapped" bass singer. Sumner went to the Stamps and John Hall came to the Blackwood Brothers. Part of the deal also consisted of JD giving up his ownership of the Blackwood Brothers and James giving up his ownership of the Stamps. Jimmy Blackwood went to work for JD in the Stamps at the same time. Donnie Sumner became the piano player in 1966 and then moved to the lead slot when it opened up.
Working for the King (1971-1977)
As the 1970s rolled around, the Stamps saw a number of changes. . Ed Enoch came on board in 1969 as baritone. Bill Baize was soon singing tenor, and Donnie Sumner was still on lead. One notable change came when J.D. hired a bass singer Richard Sterban. J.D. says it was due to many business interests he was involved in, because the guys in his group wanted him to, and that he was smart enough to know that even old people liked to hear young people. He said he did not want to be up there singing while others wanted him to shut up and let the younger guys sing. Others say it was due to health problems, while others say it was because J.D. saw himself as a star and liked coming out to sing specialty numbers with the group backing him up.
Either way, they started working for Elvis as a backup group for Elvis Presley which launched them into global stardom. They replaced the Imperials who could were singing back up with Jimmy Dean and could not do both. Elvis insisted that J.D. sing with the group and told him he would have had him sing with him years before, but didn't think he would. Richard became increasingly unhappy with this arrangement both by pressure from his wife and possibly being overshadowed by J.D. Most quartets are not big enough for two basses. :-) He left and joined the Oak Ridge Boys after getting the offer when Noel Fox left that group. Ed Wideman, a canadian was hired to replace him. Later, Donnie Sumner left, and Ed Enoch moved up to lead. He was replaced by Dave Rowland(later of Dave and Sugar.) He eventually left and Ed Hill came to the Stamps from the Prophets. At some point Ed Wideman left (he died too at some point) and was replaced by Larry Strickland.
After Elvis' death, a revolving door of members sang with the Stamps. At one point after Bill Baize left, they had a female singer during their last two configurations. Around this time Ed Hill left and went with the Singing Americans. Ed Enoch was still in the group and David Ponder sang baritone. When Ed Enoch and Shirley Enoch (J.D.'s daughter) got a divorce, J.D. broke the group up. By 1980, JD was filling in with Hovie Lister and the Statesmen. It was then that he and Lister hatched the idea for the Masters V, and the Stamps name was once again retired.
Second Rebirth (1988)
When James Blackwood, Jake Hess, and Steve Warren exited the Masters V, the underlying concept of the group was significantly diluted. JD and Hovie carried on for a while with Shaun/Sherrill Nielsen, Jack Toney, and Ed Hill, but ultimately JD decided to revive the Stamps name. Warren returned to sing tenor while Toney and Hill remained with the group during the name change. Warren left again, and Jerry Trammell (brother of Mark Trammell) who had sung with the Florida Boys was hired as tenor. Strickland left and Ed Enoch returned to sing lead. The core members of the Stamps from the part of the glory days of the 1970s were reunited . . . Sumner, Hill, and Enoch. Ultimately, Rick Strickland replaced Warren on tenor and Jerry Kelso became the pianist (replacing C.J. Almgren) . Before Sumner's death in 1998, the group appeared at numerous Elvis tribute events as well headlining for gospel concerts.
J.D. had said in voice and print that Ed Enoch was the only one who could carry on the Stamps and that since there had been a Stamps name long before J.D.'s involvement, there should be one after. He said it was in his will, but apparently there was some issue. After Sumners passing, Shirley Enoch apparently inherited the name and it was retired. Enoch, Hill and Strickland brought back C.J. Almgren and they formed Ed Enoch and Golden Covenant. Rick Strickland later left the group to be closer to his father so he could care for him.
Early in 1999 Tom Graham was hired to sing bass, turning Golden Covenant into a quartet. They went through several other mutations before they eventually secured the rights to use the Stamps name again. The Stamps Quartet was reborn again, with Ed Enoch and Ed Hill at their familiar positions of lead and baritone, with Jerry Kelso back at the piano. Royce Taylor and Butch Owens filled out the group, singing tenor and bass, respectively.
In 2005, Ed Hill suffered a heart attack and later a stroke and left the group to recover. Michael Hellwig replaced him. When Jerry Kelso left to join the Dove Brothers, Dustin Jenkins and later Lucas Case took his place. Finally Joe Frech took over the tenor position
Enoch, Owens, Hellwig, Case and Frech still tour as the Stamps Quartet today.
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