Robert Henry Coleman, noted hymn publisher and Baptist song leader, was born on November 1, 1869, in Bardstown, Kentucky. He was the son of Rev. Thomas Henry Coleman and Quintella Belle (Jones) Coleman. He grew up on a farm near Little Union, Kentucky, and attended Georgetown College. When his father, a Baptist preacher, obtained a pulpit in Plano, Texas, Coleman left school in 1888 and moved to Plano where he went into business as a drug clerk. He married the daughter of Dr. Henry Dye of Plano on February 20, 1890. They had one son and one daughter. In the 1890s Coleman worked for Plano National Bank and as an editor for the Plano Courier. He moved to Dallas and served as assistant secretary for the YMCA there. Then he became an assistant to James B. Gambrell in Baptist state mission work.
In 1901 Coleman joined the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Dallas and was soon ordained a deacon. In December 1904 he took on the position of assistant pastor, a role he would fill for more than forty years. He became superintendent of the Sunday school there in 1910. From 1908 to 1914 Coleman also served as business manager for the Baptist Standard. He was president of the Texas Baptist Young Peoples Union for several years.
Coleman was perhaps best-known as the longtime song director at the First Baptist Church of Dallas and as, at one time, perhaps the world’s largest publisher of hymnals. His publishing business produced more than thirty songbooks, including The World Evangel (1913), Kingdom Songs (1921), The Pilot (1922), Victorious Praise (1922), The Modern Hymnal (1926), Gospel Melodies (1928), Coleman’s Songs for Men (1932), Glad Tidings (1932), and Precious Hymns (1938). Over the course of his lifetime, he distributed more than thirteen million copies of songbooks around the world, including to missions in Africa. Coleman also served as song director at various religious conferences such as the Baptist World Alliance that took place in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1923, and meetings of the Baptist General Convention, Baptist Young People’s Union of North America, and the Southern and Northern Baptist conventions.
Coleman died of pneumonia on February 13, 1946. He was buried in Grove Hill Cemetery next to his wife, who had preceded him in death in March 1941.