Sallie Martin (November 20, 1895 -June 18, 1988) was a gospel singer nicknamed "the mother of gospel music" for her efforts to popularize the songs of Thomas A. Dorsey and her influence on other artists. Raised as a Baptist in Pittfield, Georgia, she joined the Pentecostal movement as a young woman. She began her career singing in Holiness churches after coming to Chicago in 1927.
Martin's rough-hewn singing style, combined with the enthusiastic physicality of the Holiness church, nearly kept her from working with Dorsey, who looked down on the shouting style of many Holiness singers and was reluctant to hire a singer who could not read music. Martin nonetheless persuaded Dorsey, after three auditions, to hire her as part of a trio he had formed to introduce his songs to churches. She proved to be an able organizer with a shrewd financial sense who marketed Dorsey's songs, organized his finances, developed new avenues for business and helped launch the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, Inc.
Martin was a successful artist in her own right, forming the Sallie Martin Singers, in which her daughter Cora Martin, Dinah Washington, then known as Ruth Jones, and Brother Joe May were featured, in 1940 after a dispute with Dorsey. She started her own publishing house, Martin and Morris Music, Inc., with Kenneth Morris (8/28/1917-1988), Gospel music publisher, arranger, composer, and innovator, was born in New York. Although he began making music in church as a youngster, he commenced his professional career as a jazz musician. In high school, and later while studying at the Manhattan Conservatory of Music, the ever changing Kenneth Morris Band was often billed at hotels, restaurants, and lounges. He and others of his band traveled to the Chicago World's Fair in 1934 to perform dance music for the day and evening concerts. Because of the heavy schedule, Morris became ill, and was forced to leave the band. However, he decided to stay in Chicago, and there met members of the Gospel music community. Among them were Lillian Bowles and Charles Henry Pace. He spent six years with Lillian Bowles Music House. In 1940, Morris partnered with Sallie Martin to form Martin and Morris Music Company and together they were responsible for publishing a number of gospel standards, including "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" (1940).
Martin retired from the Sallie Martin Singers in the mid-1950s as the strain of touring grew too great; the group continued on the road for several more decades. She remained an active force in the NDGCC even after she went out on her own and was a vocal supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and of health programs in Nigeria. She remained a vigorous proponent of gospel music and defender of her role in bringing it to the churches, as her appearance in the 1980 movie "Say Amen Somebody" illustrates vividly.
- The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times, Heilbut, Tony, New York: Limelight Editions ©1997 Edition ISBN 0-87910-034-6
- How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel, Boyer, Horace Clarence. Elliott and Clark, ©1995 ISBN 0-252-06877-7
- We'll Understand It Better By And By: Pioneering African-American Gospel Composers, Reagon, Bernice Johnson. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution ©1992 ISBN 1-56098-166-0