J. M. Henson (1887-1972)
J. M. Henson was a major contributor to the development of southern gospel music. In 1921 he and a group of other musicians and businessmen formed the singing conventions, presenting concerts, and selling their songbooks. And they organized a school in which they taught music theory, sight-reading, ear training, voice culture, harmony, composition, and the methods of teaching and conducting music. Henson eventually became sole owner of the firm.
James Melvin Henson was born in Gordon County on August 23, 1887, and was educated in the local public schools. In 1910 he graduated from Eagle's Normal Musical Institute of Clanton, Alabama, where he studied all the elements of gospel music that he later taught in his own school. He soon became a prolific songwriter. In 1937 a gospel-music trade magazine reported that he had penned more than 2,000 compositions. An acquaintance said that Henson "writes a song as easy as writing a letter." It was not unusual for him to write two songs in one day.
Henson found inspiration for his songs in the people and events he encountered in his daily life.
Henson sold his music business in 1961 but remained with the new owners in an advisory capacity until his retirement in 1967. He died on April 22, 1972. One of his contemporaries described Henson as "the only person in America, and probably in the world, that could write the words and music to a song, set the type, make the plate, print and bind the book, play the music on piano or organ, and sing the song."