History of the Restoration Movement

Palmer Esker Wheeler


The Life Of P. E. Wheeler

Palmer Esker Wheeler was born July 11, 1905 of William David and Gertrude Jane Tate Wheeler in a four room log cabin between Millport and Vernon in Northwest Alabama. HIS mother was one quarter Cherokee Indian. The family lived on five different farms in the community of Simon Town near the neighborhood of the old Pollard school house. When he was thirteen years old the family moved to a farm near Columbus, Mississippi. About 1922 or '23 the family moved to Ft. Towson, Oklahoma where Palmer finished High School in 1925. That year he enrolled in Southeastern State Universtty at Durant, Oklahoma but times were hard and he was offered a good job singing with the Stamps-Baxter Music Company Dallas, so he gave up the college work.

Other children in his father’s family were: Johnny E. (deceased) Hattie Eula Tow, Roy Ellis, Beulah Edna Page: Luther Elton (deceased) Mary Edith Allison, and William E. Their father and grandfather before them had been good singers and good teachers of music, and they were all taught to sing from the very early days of their life. Not only did they teach music to their children, but they spent much time teaching singing schools. (See "The Singin' Wheelers" in this book.) The whole family made music their vocation, but sometimes they had to pick some cotton, work in the hay, and do other available work to keep the bills paid and to pay for voice lessons for Palmer, and others in the family. In addition to the work he did under the direction of his father, Palmer studied under R.B. and Kieffer Vaughn, Homer Rodeheaver, C.C. Stafford, in music schools in Dallas and Jacksonville in Texas and in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

When he joined the Stamps-Baxter music company, he became a part of the original Stamps Quartet, along with his brother, Roy, Odis Echols, and Frank Stamps. Dwight Brock played the piano. V.O. Stamps, brother of Frank, form ed the famous Stamps Quartet that sang over KRLD radio station in Dallas, which many of you will remember. The quartet on which Palmer sang was called "The All Star Quartet," and they worked mostly in the deep South in Georgia and Alabama. In 1927 and 1928 this quartet made records for the Victor Company. Later, with his brothers and sisters, he made recordings for the Sacred Record Company and the International Record Company in Los Angeles. The All Star Quartet sang a variety of music including popular songs along with the religious songs. In his beautiful tenor voice Palmer sang solos like Ah Sweet Mystery of Life, while Roy would sing numbers like Me and My Shadow. Their first record for Victor was, Give The World A Smile, and Love Leads The Way. This was the first religious songs by a male quartet on a major label. This record became so popular that they adopted Give The World A Smile Each Day as their theme song, and it has so remained with the Stamps Quartet until this day. In the next two years this "original group" recorded a total of nine 78 rpm records for Victor. Palmer sang the high tenor and was featured on at least one side of each record. He is noted for singing the highest notes on record at this period of time, before the advent of the modern P.A. systems. Three records made in this period were made by Palmer, Roy, and Johnny Wheeler (The Wheeler's Brothers Trio) with Frank Stamps singing the bass. Some of these songs were, I'll Be Happy, Come To The Saviour, Do Your Best And Wear A Smile.

In the summer of 1929 the Wheeler Brothers Trio went to Louisville, Kentucky to sing for the Lions International Convention, as representatives from the state of Oklahoma. On June 21, while attending this convention. Palmer was married to Miss Lena Bandy, of Scottsville, Kentucky. One child, Tommy, was born to them. He has followed in his father's footsteps in music, holding the B.A. degree with a music major from Abilene Christian University and the M.A. degree with the same major from Texas Tech at Lubbock. He taught music in the public schools for a few years, but in recent years has been engaged in the banking business. He remains active in music, being the regular song leader and a deacon for The Church in DeSoto, Texas. He is also the "coordinator" for the Way of Truth T.V. program from channel four each Sunday morning in Dallas. His father held this position from the beginning of that program in 1956 until poor health forced the termination of that work. Palmer's parents were members of the Baptist church when they moved to Oklahoma, and of course their children had been so reared. John Eiland Wheeler, a brother of Palmer's father, had come to Oklahoma and obeyed the gospel some years before this. He had tried to teach others in his family the "way of The Lord more perfectly" and had been able to teach many of them, but not Palmer's father. Tom Walker, a gospel preacher, went to Valliant, Oklahoma to conduct a gospel meeting in 1924. The brethren in Valliant had made arrangements for a singer for the meeting, but at the last, something happened and he couldn't come. The only singer available was this Baptist man named Wheeler. Of course the brethren did not want that, but they didn't have anyone else. Brother Walker urged the brethren to use him, saying: ''I'll convert him". They used him and Brother Walker was true to his word. (I first heard this story from Brother Walker himself, who was a member of the Sunset church in Dallas where I once preached.) Palmer obeyed the gospel in 1929 at Hugo, Oklahoma, being baptized there by Clarence Williams. The following year Lena obeyed the gospel under the preaching of G.K. Wallace at Wheeler, Texas. After Palmer obeyed the gospel he began to be more involved in the work of the church, and in 1930 in Hugo preached his first sermon. Though his main contribution to The Church was in the field of music, he did from time to time, when' called upon, preach The Word.

About 1937 he went to Freed-Hardeman College, Henderson, Tennessee to teach music. He remained here for two years, resigning to devote all his time to singing schools and gospel meeting work, in which he excelled. In 1977 he had participated in more than five hundred singing schools and Vacation Bible Schools, in addition to leading the singing in hundreds of gospel meetings in 27 of the states all across the length and breadth of the nation. He worked in meetings with just about every well known evangelist among us, and many who were not so well known. His work also took him into the local churches to work as song leader and educational director. These included: Central in Amarillo; Roswell, N.M.; Trinity Heights and Oak Cliff in Dallas, Cleburne, Borger, Memphis, Dutton St. in Waco (all in Texas), Jackson, Miss., Grand Prairie, Texas, Elmwood, later known as Cliffwood in Dallas, where he was working at the end. More than fifty of his songs were published, most of them for children. His work in Vacation Bible Schools caused him to see the need for music for this work, and he published Youth Melodies and Action Songs, a work that was well received and still sells well. It has gone through three printings, with two revisions. Some of his best songs are: Little Boy David, Today is the Day Of Salvation, and the one of which he was proudest was the names of the books of the New Testament, set to music in 1944 and which is used almost universally. His most popular song was, I Want To Go To Heaven When I Die.

An excerpt from the cover of the last release of the Give The World a Smile series of records from RCA says of him: "The powerful first tenor of Palmer Wheeler soars sweetly and effortlessly, caressing each note and yet one feels the intensity of his religious experience as he sings." Thus he gained the distinctive title of: "The Golden Voice Tenor of Tennessee" in the middle thirties.

About the middle of 1982 he became ill and had surgery. It was found that he had cancer. On Thanksgiving day he was with his family, and had been feeling quite well, but on this day he became ill, and was taken to Methodist hospital in Dallas. It was found that the cancer had spread throughout his body. His beloved brothers and sisters came from California to see him, while he could still visit with them. As always, they did some singing together. He remained in the hospital until after the first of the year. He wanted to go home and they took him home, but he could not be properly cared for there. They took him to a nursing home in DeSoto. My wife and I went by to see him, but got there after they had taken him to DeSoto. We decided to follow him there, for we knew how terribly sick he was. He was asleep when we got there, but I spoke to him. He opened his eyes and smiled. We shook hands and when he took my hand he kissed it and closed his eyes and talked to us no more. Later that afternoon The Lord took him home. It was the eighth of January, 1983.

The funeral was conducted in the Cliffwood meeting house in Dallas, where he worshipped. David Slater, a grandson of the lamented Will Slater, and David Keen led the congregation in singing some beautiful old songs. Both of these young men were students Palmer had helped to teach to sing. Brother Steve Bracken, Minister of the Cliffwood church, conducted the service in a most excellent way. At the close, a special chorus sang some of Palmer's songs, including, I Want To Go To Heaven When I Die. One of the largest crowds I have ever seen at a funeral in Dallas gathered to pay their respects to this great man of God. What was mortal sleeps in the Laurel cemetery in Dallas, where so many of the saints from Oak Cliff also lie sleeping.

Brother Wheeler worked as long as he was able. He was a barber, and as long as he was able he looked after those needs for numbers of older people, including Brother Tillit S. Teddlie. Until he was unable to do the work, he continued to have a class of young men he was teaching to be song leaders, and one could not be around him very long until he began to talk about it.

V.E. Howard, working with Freed-Hardeman College Chorus, produced a record of some of his songs. Sister Wheeler has now (1985) joined him in that better land. Palmer Wheeler was a good man a faithful Christian who used his vast talents in music for the advancement of The Lord's cause. No man can do better! Of course we'll all remember him and look forward to the time when we will hear his beautiful voice in the better land.

-Gospel Preachers Of Yesteryear, Loyd L. Smith, pages 399-403

Obituary For P. E. Wheeler

Palmer Wheeler passed from this life Jan. 8, 1983 at the age of 77. Our beloved brother was known throughout the South and the Western United States as a singer and music teacher. Many children have learned to love the Lord and his word through Palmer’s songs. In the late 1930’s, he taught music at Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, Tenn. During the past 50 years, brother Wheeler sang in gospel meetings held by many prominent preachers in our brotherhood.

He taught singing schools and personally helped many young people to sing through his action songs. His love for the Lord is expressed deeply in the many hymns he has written.

Palmer sang as a member of the original Stamps Quartet. They were the first gospel quartet to be recorded by a major recording studio. Victor Records recorded “Give the World a Smile.”

Among the favorites for children, Palmer wrote “The Wise Man Built His house Upon the Rock.” You may have learned the books of the New Testament from the tune brother Wheeler wrote for that purpose. How many hearts have been touched with the assurance of the song, “I know the Lord Will Find a Way for Me.” The words and melody of this song will be engraved on his tombstone as it has been engraved upon our hearts. Palmer Wheeler passed away in Dallas, Texas, where he and his wife have lived for the past 30 years. Our brother is survived by his wife, Lena, and only son, Tommy E. Wheeler. The loss of this our faithful brother is gain as we rejoice knowing that the good work the Lord began in his body has now been made perfect in the Spirit.
Larry Sullivan.

Gospel Advocate, February 17, 1983, page 124.

Location Of The Grave Of Palmer Wheeler

Palmer E. Wheeler is buried in the Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. Just south of Dallas on East I-35 take the Laureland Exit 420. and travel east. From the exit you should be able to see the cemetery as it is adjacent to the east side of the freeway. See Cemetery Map Here.

GPS Location Of Grave
32°40'28.7"N 96°48'59.7"W
or D.d. 32.674650, -96.816583
Plot Location
Section 62 - Laureland Cemetery

"I Know The Lord Will Find A Way For Me"
Palmer E. - July 11, 1905 - Jan. 8, 1983
Lena M. - Apr. 11, 1898 - Aug. 24, 1985

Special Thanks

Special Thanks - A very special thanks goes to my good friend, Rich Berdan. In January, 2010, my wife, Jenny and I were out in the D-FW area for the Fort Worth Lectures. We stayed with our dear friends Rich and Barb. One morning Rich and I set out to locate graves of Gospel Preachers. Much thanks to Rich for helping me find this and other graves.

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