Robert H. Coleman, Publisher of Hymnals

Although you won’t find much information about him on the worldwide web, Robert H. Coleman and his publishing company has had a profound impact on the publication of gospel hymns and hymnals, especially those of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Robert Henry Coleman was born in Bardstown, Kentucky on November 1, 1869, was educated at Georgetown College in Kentucky, and died on February 13, 1946 in Dallas, Texas.

As a young man, he moved to Plano, Texas where he operated a drugstore, edited the Plano Courier, and made an unsuccessful run for political office.

Later, he moved to Dallas, Texas and from 1903-09, Coleman served as assistant secretary of the Dallas YMCA and as administrative assistant and director of congregational singing at the First Baptist Church of Dallas under the leadership of Pastor George W. Truett.

Coleman was business manager of the Baptist Standard newspaper, 1908-14 and the Texas Baptist Weekly, 1909-15. For several years he served as president of the Texas Baptist Young Peoples Union. Then once again, he served as assistant secretary of the Dallas YMCA in the years 1915-1946.

During his lifetime, he led the singing for many annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention and was the music director of the 1923 meeting of the Baptist World Alliance.

However, his influence on us comes through Robert H. Coleman, Publisher.

From 1903 to 1945, Robert Coleman was a hymnbook publisher. His music publishing business was independent of church affiliation, catering to evangelistic churches in the South and in the West. For over 30 years, he supplied hymnals and songbooks to these churches. Although he sold to many different denominations, many Southern Baptists considered him to be their publisher.

His greatest connection to Southern Baptists, however, began when he hired B.B. McKinney in 1919 as a part-time editor. McKinney worked with him until 1935. During their collaboration, Robert H.  Coleman published many of McKinney’s hymns and songs. As editor, B.B. McKinney was involved in the work on over 20 hymnals and songbooks that were published during these years. These included the songbook Reapers, The Modern Hymnal, and The American Hymnal. Coleman’s Songs for Men which featured many of McKinney’s arrangements and songs was also copyrighted in 1932 during this time. 

In 1935, B.B. McKinney went to work for the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. When he began work on The Broadman Hymnal, he found Robert Coleman very helpful in this project, unlike many other independent publishers who considered the Board a threat to their own businesses.

McKinney was so impressed with Robert H. Coleman that he lead the Sunday School Board to purchase the publishing company in 1945. This included the copyrights, printing plates, stock, and the use of Coleman’s name. At that time, Robert Coleman was the largest individual songbook publisher in the United States.

In fact, new editions of many of the songbooks and hymnals were published reading “Published by Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee Successor to Robert H. Coleman.

The purchase of the publishing company included a stipulation hiring Coleman to run the business in Dallas for 5 years. Unfortunately, the man, Robert Coleman died the following year.

Additional posts in the Robert H. Coleman Series:
The Modern Hymnal
The American Hymnal
Reapers Songbook
Coleman’s Songs for Men
The Popular Hymnal

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Most of the information shared in this article was gleaned from the doctoral dissertation of Terry C. Terry, B.B. MCKINNEY: A SHAPING FORCE IN SOUTHERN PROTESTANT MUSIC. Thank you, Dr. Terry for your work!

Additional information came from The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology and

8 thoughts on “Robert H. Coleman, Publisher of Hymnals”

  1. My Dad sang in a men's quartet almost most of his life. The last he sang before he went blind was when he was about 81 years old and I know they used a Coleman men's quartet book. Mom had so many song books and we took what we wanted when Dad moved into an assisted living facility about about 3 years after mom died and the rest of the song books were taken to his church for people to take if the wanted any. Unfortunately, I took mostly Singspiration published books, Like all the "Favorites" and also several books she used with children's choirs. I took a couple old hymnbooks, but probably missed some good ones but they were in terrible shape. Thank you for researching and sending on the information you have gathered. I so much enjoy your inspirational writing about music and the Lord.

  2. Thank you so much! I'm glad that this brings back some good memories for you. I'll be featuring some of these books in future posts. Blessings!

  3. I just located some American and Modern Hymnals.
    They bring back some great memories. It amazes me just how msny of the Gospel songs I remmber and can sing. I am 85 yeas young and wish these hymnals were in use today instead of what you hear today. Bob Acker

  4. Dorothy Lewis Ivey

    I was on the staff of the First Baptist Church when Dr Geo. W. Truett died in 1944. I knew “Bro. Bob” from 1940-1946. He was a great man. The story is told that one time Dr. Truett went to Africa to speak at a convention of some kind, and the local pastor on meeting Dr Truett said he was not acquainted with him. Dr. Truett reminded him that his assistant, Bob Coleman, had been at the convention previously. The native pastor’s face lit up, “Oh, we know Bro. Bob. We sing him every Sunday.”
    I went to college at Bethel Woman’s College, Hopkinsville, KY. and worked for Dr. Powhatan W. James, who married Jessie Truett. I typed his letters and some of the manuscripts for Dr. Truett’s sermons. When Bro. Coleman died in 1946, Mrs. James came to my table at lunch and asked me to eat with her and Dr James. She told me that her mother, Mr. Josephine Truett, had called and told her of Bro. Bob’s death. We shared our memories together and mourned his passing, but we reminded ourselves that he was probably leading or singing a song and re-uniting with Dr. Truett. (I am 100 years old and the only staff member of those years who is still living.)

  5. Linda Mowat-Carter

    I came across one of my father’s Bibles and on the inside cover was Sept 14, 1903 R. H. Coleman.
    Underneath, Sept 14, 1926 D. G. C. Mowat. The C is for Coleman. I wonder if this Robert H. Coleman is who my father was named after.

    1. Linda, thank you so much for sharing!

      I note that 1903 was about the time that Robert Coleman began his publishing and his service at FBC, Dallas. It would be wonderful if there was this connection.


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