Arnold, Robert Sterling (1905–2003)

By: Shelia G. Kidd

Type: Biography

Published: August 24, 2014

Updated: October 15, 2020

Robert Sterling Arnold, gospel songwriter, music teacher, and music publisher, was born on January 26, 1905, in Coleman, Texas. He was one of five children of Millard Franklin and Rowena Victoria (Lawrence) Arnold. Arnold spent his entire life promoting the expansion of Southern Gospel music through shape-note music schools and music publishing. Arnold grew up in Coleman and attended public school there and in Silver Valley. At age sixteen he began studying music by attending normals, which were advanced sessions for extremely talented musicians, sponsored by Central Music Company of Little Rock, Arkansas. He also attended various singing schools and studied under well-known teachers J. H. Carr, Will M. Ramsey, John A. McClung, Frank White, and Dr. J. B. Herbert. He had private instruction from other noted teachers: William W. Combs, noted music instructor for both the Vaughan Music Company and the Stamps-Baxter Music Company; L. A. Gordon; and Mrs. J. H. Carr.

In the early 1920s at age eighteen Arnold began singing tenor in various quartets as well as working various radio jobs. He first joined the Carr Quartet, named after his teacher J. H. Carr. After leaving, Arnold joined the Central Quartet, which represented Will Ramsey’s shaped-note music company in Little Rock, Arkansas. He returned to work on his farm in Texas by 1927. Upon his return he joined friends Bill Bynum, Cecil MacDonald, and Bernie Horner to form the Overall Quartet and performed periodically throughout Texas and Arkansas for the next seven years. Sponsored by the JCPenney Company, the group wore pressed blue overalls, white shirts, and black bow ties at their concerts to demonstrate marketing of shape-note quartet music using down-to-earth rural imagery as well as representing how both secular and sacred themes filled the daily lives of southerners.

In February 1926 he met Cora McDonald at a singing in Veribest, Texas, and they immediately started singing together. The couple married on February 13, 1928, in San Angelo and continued singing and working together in gospel music. In 1937 he helped found the National Music Company of Coleman, Texas, and served as owner and operator with Cora Arnold as vice-president. Arnold served the company in this capacity until his death.

For nearly twenty-four years Arnold taught private voice and piano lessons in his studio in Fort Worth and continued teaching singing schools with about three hundred to his credit, teaching at least one every year from the age of nineteen until his death, but his major contributions to gospel music were promoting the use of shape-notes and publishing annual shape-note convention songbooks. Also a noted songwriter, Arnold penned more than 400 songs, his best-known being “No Tears in Heaven.” Some of his other well-known songs are “If I Could But Just Take One Soul to Heaven,” “I Wanta Get Right,” and “Did You Repent, Fully Repent?” On September 14, 1985, Arnold was inducted into the Texas Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Other honors included a Certificate of Appreciation for outstanding contributions to Christian music from Abilene Christian University.

Arnold and his wife, Cora, had one foster daughter, Wanda, and two grandsons. He died on February 8, 2003, in Coleman at the age of ninety-eight. Cora preceded him in death on May 23, 1988. Arnold, who had been a member of the Southern Gospel Music Association since 1975, was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

Southern Gospel Music Association, “Robert Sterling Arnold 1905–2003, Inducted 2005” (, accessed January 9, 2009. Robert S. Arnold (, accessed December 22, 2008. James R. Goff, Jr., Close Harmony: A History of Southern Gospel Music (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2002). Abilene Reporter-News (Texas), February 9, 2003.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Music and Drama
  • Music
  • Business, Promotion, Broadcasting, and Technology
  • Genres (Gospel)
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Shelia G. Kidd, “Arnold, Robert Sterling,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 24, 2014
October 15, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: