Uncle Ben

by R. L. Vaughn

Music: Away Here in Texas
This article is reprinted from the July-August 1993 issue of Away Here in Texas.

Benjamin Lewis Vaughn was born in the Oak Flat Community of southern Rusk County, Texas, on November 21, 1885. He was the third of nine children born to Marshall Lewis and Martha Jane (Sanders) Vaughn. Ben grew up on a 71-acre farm helping with such chores as milking cows, plowing fields, picking cotton, making syrup, and cutting wood. He attended school at Oak Flat School (District 44, Rusk County). At age eighteen he professed faith in Christ and united with the Smyrna Missionary Baptist Church of Oak Flat.

Ben's musical training began early in life. His father, a Baptist minister, was a Sacred Harp singer and taught all his children to sing. Ben's grandparents moved to Texas from Greene County, Georgia in the mid-1850's and probably brought The Sacred Harp with them. Ben evidently took his knowledge of the rudiments of music and taught himself to play the pump organ, the autoharp, and the accordion.

Ben's later musical training seems to have been from two sources: singing schools and courses at Jacksonville College in Jacksonville, Texas. Ben studied seven-shape note music in several singing schools by Sharp McNeil of Cushing, Texas. He attended several Sacred Harp singing schools and had three terms under Prof. John W. Miller of Athens, Texas. Prof. Miller was President of the Sacred Harp Association of Texas. The music at Jacksonville College probably consisted of round notes. We have a textbook from his college days: Hymns and Hymns Tunes by David Breed.

Ben did not go to Jacksonville College to study music. Rather, he enrolled in the fall of 1909 to pursue a teacher's certificate. His brother Levi and cousin Tip enrolled at the same time. While in school, Ben served as business manager of the college Glee Club, of which he was a member.

Sometime before October 1909, Ben felt the call to preach, as is evidenced by his correspondence with his pastor, Elder J. F. McClendon. (Elder McClendon was President of the East Texas Sacred Harp Singing Convention, 1890.) On September 17, 1910, he was licensed to preach the gospel by the Smyrna Church and exercised his gift before her on several occasions. Ben also began to teach singing schools—offering to teach the Sacred Harp or seven-shape or round notes if the community so desired.

After graduating from Jacksonville College, Ben was employed as a teacher at Oak Flat, Public School District No. 4 in Nacogdoches County. He taught there during the 1911-12 school year.

Ben was a talented singer and musician. He wrote at least two songs, both about death. The first, written very late in 1909 or early in 1910, was entitled She Is Gone. It was dedicated to Mr. H. B. Woolverton, having been written after the death of his wife. It was published in a small seven-shape book by Sharp McNeil. The other song, A Golden Crown to Wear, is dated July 17, 1910, and is found on page 521 of The B. F. White Sacred Harp. It was added to the book after Ben's death, probably submitted by his father, Elder M. L. Vaughn, or his teacher, Prof. John W. Miller.

The chorus of A Golden Crown to Wear seems prophetic:

O time speed on and bring the hour,
When I shall meet with Christ in power;
Yes, let me then to glory rise,
And wear a crown beyond the skies.

Time sped on, and in a short time Ben was gone. He contracted typhoid fever and died on August 21, 1912. "All that was mortal of our brother was laid away by tender hands and weeping hearts, to rest in the Holleman Cemetery. Funeral services were conducted by his pastor, Elder J. H. Waller, from the text, 'A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.'"

Thus his candle burned for only a short time, but burned brightly. In 26 years, Ben became singer, musician, licensed minister, public school teacher, singing school teacher, and songwriter. How he could have influenced his family, his church, and Sacred Harp singing in East Texas we can only wonder. Such consideration we must leave in the hands of a loving God who doeth all things well.


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