Hannah Williams

SOUTHWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY SCHOOL OF CHURCH MUSIC. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary School of Church Music originated in 1915, when Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth established a Department of Gospel Music and thus became the first Southern Baptist seminary to offer any type of church music training. The new department consisted of director I. E. Reynolds, a piano teacher, and nine students. It grew to five faculty members and sixty-one students by 1919, and the curriculum changed to provide a three-year course leading to a Bachelor of Gospel Music degree. Growth continued, and by 1921 the department, with fifteen faculty members and 209 students, had become the School of Gospel Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This name change was soon followed by the addition of the Master of Gospel Music degree program in 1922.

Since its inception, the School of Gospel Music had shared a building with the School of Theology, but it soon became clear that separate quarters were needed. Mrs. George E. Cowden answered this need with a gift of $150,000 in 1925. Cowden Hall was completed in 1926 at a cost of $335,000. At the same time, the title School of Gospel Music was changed to School of Sacred Music to reflect growing musical interests.

Unfortunately, this era of prosperity was brought to an end by the Great Depression of the 1930s. During this time, the music school faculty was reduced to nine and all salaries were halved, with merely 50 percent of that being paid in money. However, the school managed to continue functioning even under difficult circumstances and in 1941 was recognized and accepted as a member of the Texas Association of Music Schools.

Reynolds retired as director in 1945 and was succeeded by Ellis L. Carnett, who retired two years later. His replacement, J. Campbell Wray, reorganized and expanded the curriculum, established the Department of Music in Evangelism and the Department of Church Music Education, established a separate music library, and instituted an annual Church Music Workshop. Wray retired in 1956, when James McKinney became the first dean of the School of Sacred Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1957 the school's name was changed once again, this time to School of Church Music. In addition to his work in vocal pedagogy, McKinney was instrumental in forming the Doctor of Music program (1961) and gaining accreditation for the school from the National Association of Schools of Music (1966). He also oversaw the addition of the $3.5 million Kathryn Sullivan Bowld Music Library in 1993 before his retirement in 1994.

Benjamin Harlan was chosen to succeed McKinney, and Harlan served as director from 1995 to 2003. Stephen Johnson was appointed the new dean in 2005, as the school celebrated its ninetieth anniversary. By 2011 students could enroll in a number of degree programs including a new Bachelor of Arts in Music, two different master’s degrees, Doctor of Musical Arts in Church Music, and Doctor of Philosophy in Church Music. In 2013 Leo Day was named the new dean. Two new undergraduate degrees—Bachelor of Music in Performance and Bachelor of Music in Worship Studies—were introduced in the fall of 2015. The school consisted of sixteen full-time music professors at that time. The degree programs encompass sixteen areas of concentration ranging from orchestral instruments and voice studies to education to conducting to music in missions. The school’s mission is “to provide quality music education for future and current church leaders.”


William J. Reynolds, The Cross " the Lyre: The Story of the School of Church Music, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas (Fort Worth: School of Church Music, SWBTS, 1994). "Isham Emmanuel Reynolds: Church Musician," Baptist History and Heritage (April, 1992). Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, "Welcome to the School of Church Music" (, accessed August 26, 2015. Sara Virginia Thompson, "A History of the School of Church Music, SWBTS" (Fiftieth Anniversary Address).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Hannah Williams, "SOUTHWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY SCHOOL OF CHURCH MUSIC," accessed January 27, 2020,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on August 26, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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