New Book from Doug Yeo: Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry

In case you are looking for something to add to your summer reading list, the University of Illinois Press has just published long-time HBS contributor Doug Yeo's new book, co-authored with Kevin Mungons, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry. Students of gospel songs may remember Rodeheaver’s name for the many hymnals and songbooks he published in the first half of the twentieth century, and some may have read that he was Billy Sunday’s trombone-playing songleader. But for most people, Homer Rodeheaver is the most famous person they never heard of.

As the authors write in the opening paragraphs of the book’s introduction:

Just before the start of World War I, Homer Rodeheaver reached the pinnacle of his national fame—but not as a politician, athlete, or Hollywood celebrity. Instead, Homer Rodeheaver played the trombone and led mass singing for the revivalist Billy Sunday, a gig that vaulted both men to national prominence. In an era when music styles emerged as marketable genres, Rodeheaver created a brand of gospel song that cast an enormous influence on American vernacular music. And when the era of tabernacle revivalism inevitably declined, Rodeheaver adroitly shifted to other ventures. He started the first gospel record label in 1920, established the largest gospel music publishing company, flirted with a film career, and then shifted to radio, where his programs ran on three national networks. At his death in 1955, no one had to ask “Who was Homer Rodeheaver?”

Thirty years later, however, the question lingered in the air as a dumpster lid clanked shut in Winona Lake, Indiana. Workers had just through away the last fragments of Rodeheaver’s musical empire, adding one more stanza to the sad lament sung by archivists and researchers. Rodeheaver Music closed its offices in 1987 after several corporate shuffles by its parent company, Word Music of Waco, Texas. And from a corporate standpoint, Word Music kept the one asset it knew was valuable—copyright records for Rodeheaver’s famous song catalog. But this sort of information fit in a few filing cabinets. The rest of the stuff seemed to lack present value: early recordings, scrapbooks, correspondence, and original manuscripts from important gospel songwriters. The dumpster seemed to win out, for now.

Over the course of two decades of research and writing, Doug and Kevin have rescued Homer Rodeheaver from the dumpster and put together the story of his remarkable life and considerable influence. His is story about music, publishing, Chicago, the Civil War, Jim Crow, race, the Ku Klux Klan, the early recording industry (by some accounts, Rodeheaver’s vocal recordings made in the early twentieth century outsold all singers apart from Enrico Caruso), the perks and perils of being a celebrity, churches, money, religious devotion, romance, Christian evangelism, community singing, marketing, airplanes, speedboats, philanthropy, Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea, and the trombone. Lots of trombones. All of this that seems to be an incongruous grouping in a single sentence is just the tip of Rodeheaver’s very large iceberg.

If the story of gospel music, community and church singing, and a man who played the trombone for over 100 million people piques your interest, University of Illinois Press is now offering a 30% discount on the book. Of course, if you want to pay full price, you can order the book from, but you can purchase the book directly from University of Illinois Press and enter the discount code S21UIP to get 30% off the softcover or hardcover editions: