Saturday, October 28, 2017

Let Me Live Close to Thee -- J.R. “Pap” Baxter

Perhaps he considered the words that he wrote and shared with his new professional partner in the 1920s to be his life outlook. “Pap” (Jesse Randall, Jr.) Baxter communicated something pretty clearly in “Let Me Live Close to Thee” in 1927, shortly after he became a partner with Virgil O. Stamps in a music publishing company. The Stamps-Baxter music enterprise did indeed become so well-known in its varied efforts to promote Southern Gospel music and the greater message for God’s community that one can imagine that Pap probably felt very content with how things progressed in the decades following “Let Me Live…”. Since Baxter ran the music business from one of its branches in Chattanooga, Tennessee, while Stamps did the same in the main office in Dallas, Texas, we can guess that these words he wrote in about his 40th year emanated from the southeastern border of Tennessee, perhaps with a scene not too unlike this one in sight (Market Street in Chattanooga in 1907, some 20 years before Baxter’s song).      

Jesse Randall Baxter, Jr. was a born-and-bred southerner who evidently loved God, music, and his heritage. He was a farmer initially, and it could be said that his love for music and its evangelistic themes, including the offshoots from the music business, cultivated the lives of countless people the way a farm machine might have tilled the ground. In addition to the music publishing business, Pap promoted music education via a school and shape-note songbooks, and wrote the lyrics to some 500-600 songs, many of which were set to music by Virgil. Stamps-Baxter music’s southern Gospel was a hit, and endured for many years after both Pap and Virgil had died. Baxter was posthumously inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1997, 37 years after he had gone on to his eternal inheritance, testifying to the continuing impact of Stamps-Baxter music on the culture he tried to influence for good.

What brought about the words that Baxter wrote as a 40-year old who’d recently entered into a new adventure with Virgil Stamps? Certainly, we could imagine that Pap was an energetic businessman, eager to make a living doing what he loved. His ambitious nature, we could surmise from his poetry, was potent in one direction – being a zealous believer. He and Virgil must have agreed this was the hub of “Let Me Live…”, including a music-lyrics fusion that generates a buoyant, fast-paced version of how they thought the Christian life should proceed. Their song conveys optimism about living, when it’s in close proximity to Him. Pap did not ‘shirk’ (v.2), but wanted to ‘dare and do’ (v.1) as he thought about his and Virgil’s newly-launched company and all the dreams they must have anticipated could ensue. It says something about a 40-year old, who felt like this when others who reach this age are having mid-life crises. Baxter was a ‘go-getter’, but he didn’t run over top of others to do achieve what was in his sights. Bearing and sharing others’ loads (v.3) was part of his calculus too. Apparently he expected or had already discovered that living within a certain radius of God was all the adventure he needed.       

See brief biography of the composer here:
Some background on the music company of the composer and his partner:

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