BIOGRAPHY OF JAMES D. WALBERT
Grandson of the legendary James D. Vaughan, who is considered the “father of Southern Gospel Music,” and son of Grace Vaughan Walbert and W. B. Walbert of the James D. Vaughan Music Publishing Company of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, James D. grew up in a world of music. As a child, he studied saxophone with his father and violin before beginning piano lessons at the age of ten. For many years, starting at age fourteen, he accompanied the popular Vaughan Gospel Quartets which performed throughout the country and on Station WOAN.
WOAN, the first radio station in Tennessee, was founded in 1921 by James D. Vaughan and was one of only a small number of stations in the United States at that time. (Most of the others were in large cities. WOAN broadcast live performances of gospel, popular and classical music nationwide and to neighboring countries from Lawrenceburg, a town of about 3000 citizens. It featuring the Lawrenceburg Orchestra as well singers and instrumental musicians who traveled to Lawrenceburg from all over the U.S. to perform on the radio.
James D. began teaching piano at the Vaughan School of Music in Lawrenceburg at the age of fourteen and has taught continuously since then, except for the three and a half years he spent at Fort Monroe, Virginia in the army during World War Two, during which time he played saxophone in the concert band and piano in the orchestra.
For several years, just prior to a tour of duty with the U.S. Army, James D. performed for Music Clubs across the U.S. with a program of classical works for voice and piano.
In 1947 he established a piano studio in Birmingham, Alabama where students from all over the United States have come to learn his special system of playing. Many pianists now teaching and playing professionally throughout the country began their musical careers studying with James D. Walbert. Among his students well known in the world of Gospel music, were Fay Jennings Thompson (Author of “Shape Notes”), Derrell Stewart (The Florida Boys), Gordon Stoker (The Jordonaires), Edsel Bourland and Jackie Marshall.
James D. was often chosen by the Musician’s Union to play for well known entertainers, such as Judy Garland, Dick Van Dyke, Liberace, Red Skelton, Anna Maria Alberghetti, and Patrice Munsel of the Metropolitan Opera. He has played his innovative arrangements of popular songs for delighted audiences at weddings and holiday gatherings and, for fifteen years, as dinner music in upscale Birmingham restaurants.
James D.’s formal piano study extended over a period of ten years and included such eminent classical teachers as Lawrence Goodman of Nashville, Tennessee, Hugh Benner of Pasadena, California and Moissaye Boguslawski of Chicago, Illinois. He studied harmony and composition with A. M. Pace of the Vaughan School of Music, and Vittorio Gianinni of Juilliard School of Music in New York. He developed his mastery of gospel, spiritual, classical and popular music, and especially his integration of the four genres, for which he is best known, on his own.
He has been inducted into the Southern Gospel Piano Roll of Honor and the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. This latter honor Mr. Walbert shares with his father, his grandfather, his uncle Kieffer Vaughan and his great uncle Charlie Vaughan. Memorabilia pertaining to the Vaughan and Walbert families and to the Vaughan School of Music is on display at the James D. Vaughan Museum in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and at the Dollywood Museum in Gatlingburg, Tennessee.
James D. Walbert’s hymns and gospel songs have been performed by the Statesmen Quartet, the Blackwood Brothers and the Vaughan Quartets, among others. Among the more popular are “Peace Like a River”, “Working on the Road”, “What a Change”, “Tell It, Sing It, Shout It,” “Lift Your Eyes Above,” and many others. His popular songs, such as “All My Days”, “When I Saw You Walking Down the Street, ” “Enchantment,” and “I’m Feeling Fine” have also been recorded and have been admired for the beauty of their melodic line and nuanced chord structures.