Martin and Morris Music Company
Kenneth Morris (1917-1988) and Sallie Martin (1896-1988) were co-owners of the nation's oldest continuously running black gospel music publishing company. The two met at the First Church of Deliverance in Chicago, where Morris served as choir director and Martin sang in the choir. Martin and Morris established the firm in Chicago, and it remained in operation from 1940 until the 1980s.
Martin spent most of her time on the road with her singers advertising the compositions published by the firm. Morris remained in Chicago arranging, composing, and notating music. Along with his wife, Necie, Morris also handled most of the company's paperwork. Some of the more well-known musicians whose compositions were published by the firm include: William H. Brewster, Dorothy Love Coates, Lucie Campbell, Alex Bradford, Sam Cook, and Raymond Raspberry. In addition to these noted musicians, several lesser-known artists and members of churches and pastorates from around the nation were published by Martin and Morris, and their music was distributed throughout the country and around the world.
Morris bought out Martin in 1973. When he died, Martin and Morris Music Company was the only surviving black gospel sheet music distribution house in the nation. His widow, Necie, continued the business for some time after his death. There was little interest in the company by other family members and requests for materials were dropping off. With little help and lighter profits, in 1993 Necie Morris began packing up and disposing of the company's records.
For more information, see "We'll Understand It Better By and By" by Bernice Johnson Reagon, ed. (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992).
Kenneth Morris (1917-1988) was an arranger, composer, innovator, and co-founder of the gospel music publishing house Martin and Morris Music Company. Born in New York, he began making music in church as a youngster and commenced his professional career as a jazz musician. In high school, and later while studying at the Manhattan Conservatory of Music, the ever-changing Kenneth Morris Band was often billed at hotels, restaurants, and lounges.
He and others of his band traveled to the Chicago World's Fair in 1934 to perform dance music for the day and evening concerts. Because of the heavy schedule, Morris became ill, and was forced to leave the band. However, he decided to stay in Chicago, and there he met members of the gospel music community, including Lillian Bowles and Charles Pace. A pioneering and innovative gospel musician, Morris is noted for the introduction of the Hammond organ to the gospel music sound.
He spent six years with Lillian Bowles Music House, and in 1940 partnered with Sallie Martin to form Martin and Morris Music Company. When he died, Martin and Morris Publishing was the only surviving black gospel sheet music distribution house in the nation. His widow, Necie, continued the business for some time after his death.
Sallie Martin (1896-1988) was a noted gospel musician and co-founder of the gospel music publishing house Martin and Morris Music Company. Martin was born in Pittsfield, Georgia. After the death of her mother, a traveling musician, around 1912, Martin moved to Atlanta, then to Cleveland, finally settling in Chicago in 1919. In each of these cities, she sang in church choirs.
In 1932, she auditioned for and joined the Pilgrim Baptist Church chorus lead by Thomas Dorsey. And in 1933 she began traveling with Dorsey to help promote his songs. Together they founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. Martin left Dorsey and toured briefly as a soloist. She partnered with Roberta Martin for a short time, then went on to form her own women's group, The Sallie Martin Singers. Their performing style influenced musicians across the country and around the world.
Among her students were Dinah Washington, Jessy Dixon, Delois Barrett Campbell, and Alex Bradford. She continued with the group, and in 1940 joined Kenneth Morris to form Martin and Morris Music Company. Martin retired from music in 1970 and sold her portion of the business to Morris in 1973.
Letter to Martin & Morris Music from Essie Plunkett (transcript)
February 6, 1948
Martin and Morris music studio I am a riter of gospel songs, I have quite a lot of song poems.
I would like to get them published.
I heard through Mrs. Madison. Now on what terms could we get together on the music looking to hear from you please real soon.
Mrs. Essie Plunkett
117 E Trigg Avenue
P.S. I am sending you a sample of my songs.
He's My Leader, Essie Plunkett
He's my leader (My Lord) He will guide me
In his bosom (My Lord) He will hide me
He is willing, he is able, he's my friend
He will lead me safely to the other side
Jesus leads me day by day
As I travel life's highway
He lifts me from the waves of life's tides
He's my strength when I am weak
And he guides my weary feet
He will lead me to the other side
If you want this special friend of mine
Leave this sinful world behind
Go work in his vineyard it is wide
He'll not let you go a stray
He'll go with you all the way
He will lead you to the other side
If you follow where he lead
He'll suply your every need
A view of his mansions you'll se
On the Lord you can depend
He'll stay with you to the end
You will rejoice thro eternity