The owner of the world’s largest Christian music publishing catalog is closing its business, citing the effects of COVID-19 as the reason.
Brentwood Benson Music — which reportedly owns about 60,000 copyrights and is a storied Christian music business based in Nashville — announced on its website that it will cease operations by the end of this year.
The announcement states: “As we have all experienced over the past two years, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been extraordinary. The challenges presented to those of us charged with developing resources for church choirs and orchestras resulted in market realities that have become unmanageable. Unfortunately, these challenges have forced us to make the difficult decision to shut down all operations by the end of 2021.”
“The challenges presented to those of us charged with developing resources for church choirs and orchestras resulted in market realities that have become unmanageable.”
The abrupt announcement said officials are “cautiously hopeful that we will find a home for some of our best-selling products and resources in the future. However, the only way to purchase any of our products will be directly from us as we liquidate inventory over the next two weeks.”
Currently, all physical products offered on the website are being sold at 60% off normal prices and digital products are being sold at half price.
As a publishing group, Brentwood Benson has produced and marketed consumer print and choral music as well as hymnals and songbooks for the church market. Its roots go back to one of the oldest music companies in Nashville, and its history parallels the rise of Southern Gospel and then Contemporary Christian Music.
“Brentwood Benson has experienced a long and storied history developing compelling resources that have empowered churches to impact their communities with the gospel,” the closure notice says. “We want to honor the many arrangers, artists, songwriters, and partners who have given so much to breathe life into the musicals, collections, and anthems created over the years.”
The publishing company today known as Brentwood Benson dates back to 1902 and for many years The Benson Company was Nashville’s oldest permanent music business.
The company was founded by John T. Benson, who then passed leadership to his son, John T. Benson Jr., who then was followed by his son, John T. Benson III. The younger of the three men died in 2018 at age 90.
An obituary for John T. Benson III, published in the industry magazine Music Row, tells of the company’s phenomenal growth and expansion especially from the late 1940s through the 1980s.
In time, the Benson company diversified as both a publisher of sheet music and a record label.
The obituary explains: “As a publishing firm, the company already had songs recorded by nearly every Southern Gospel act. Its catalog includes thousands of copyrights, many of them standards in the field. He’s Coming Back, He Looked Beyond My Faults, I Go to the Rock, If That Isn’t Love, and Somebody Prayed for Me are just a few representative titles.”
In addition to the Benson record label, the company owned other imprints, including HeartWarming, Greentree and RiverSon. Early artists signed with the label included The Speer Family, J.D. Sumner & The Stamps, The Singing Rambos, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Lewis Family, The Hemphills and The Imperials.
As Contemporary Christian Music burst on the scene in the 1970s, Benson signed composers Michael W. Smith, Gary Chapman, Brown Bannister and Gary McSpadden. It also signed well-known recording artists, including DeGarmo & Key, Sandi Patty, dc talk, Yolanda Adams, Larnelle Harris, Bob Carlisle, Dallas Holm and Carman. Benson also marketed albums of The Bill Gaither Trio, 4Him, The Archers and The Cathedrals.
As the music industry changed in the 1980s and 1990s, The Benson Company went through several acquisitions. Other big-name companies were involved: Paragon, Zondervan, Harper Collins, the Music Entertainment Group and the Zomba Music Group.
When Benson Music Group became a part of Provident Music Group (owned by Zomba) in 1997, Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing was established as Provident’s music publishing arm.
By 2001, the Benson record labels had folded but the song-publishing arm merged with Brentwood Music to become Brentwood Benson Music, specializing in printed choral, worship, Sunday school, choir, Christmas and church music arrangements. Its catalog includes the historic Stamps-Baxter Music and Singspiration Music.
The younger Benson’s obituary said: “It is estimated that half of the people now working in Nashville’s CCM industry learned the business by working at Benson at one time or another.”
This week’s closure notice ends with this explanation: “Stay tuned for more updates as we shift our focus to supporting the team at Worship Together and working with other print music publishers to create extraordinary church resources.”
Worship Together is a relatively new player in the Christian music business, representing the changes that have occurred in Christian church worship over the past two decades. It offers a subscription service to download videos, charts and other contemporary resources. Its site features more than 60 “worship leaders.”
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