Houston Public Library, Houston Metropolitan Research Center

Nathaniel "Bill" Barnes Collection MSS.0441

Descriptive Summary

Creator Barnes, Nathaniel, 1909-
Title: Nathaniel "Bill" Barnes Collection
Dates: 1910 to 1992
Identification: MSS.0441
Quantity: 0.5 Linear feet,1 thin document box, 2 oral history tapes
Language: Materials are in English.
Repository: Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library

Biographical Note

Nathaniel Barnes was born in the year 1910 in D’Lo Mississippi in Simpson County. Following a bollweevil infestation of the Mississippi farmlands, approximately 600 workers and their families migrated to Texas for work. Mr. Barnes came with his family during this migration and resided with them at the Murray Farm in Crockett, Texas. He began working on the farm with his father at the age of 13. It was then that his father began singing spirituals with young Nathaniel while they worked and teaching him to play guitar in the evenings. At the age of 19, Nathaniel Barnes formed his own quartet, "The Vistoula Four". He honed his skills playing guitar and was then also taught piano by his father.

In 1939, Mr. Barnes moved to Houston and other larger cities throughout Texas as he worked a series of jobs. Interspersed throughout this moving about, he lived in Houston intermittently. At one point he worked at the Brown Shipyards and organized the Silver Gate Singers, which was a group formed to entertain troops as they boarded their ships that were going to war.

He befriended and was influenced by Lightnin’ Hopkins during the early 1940s. Mr. Barnes noted that they met often during this time in a house in the Third Ward on West Gray Street. He also formed a band with O.J. Williams, which they called O.J. Williams and the Sons.

In his later years, Mr. Barnes reverted from playing blues to playing only spirituals. In the 1940s, he had recorded his first set of original songs. His second recordings were taped in 1963. Neither was released in the United States, because they were in the blues style, and Mr. Barnes wanted his only associations to be with religious music. He instructed the studio not to release the recordings, but to give them away. He was unconcerned about making a profit from them. Mr. Barnes never returned to playing music other than spirituals and spent his remaining days playing organ for churches throughout Houston.

Scope and Contents

The material in the Nathaniel “Bill” Barnes Collection chronicles Mr. Barnes’ musical career from his young adulthood to 1992. The collection consists of a fully transcribed oral history interview and four photographs.



The oral history interview is housed with the Oral History Collection under the number OH 472 separate from MSS 441 the Nathaniel “Bill” Barnes Collection. The materials in the Nathaniel “Bill” Barnes Collection are arranged by series by format.
  • Series 1: Oral History Interview
  • Series 2: Photographs


Access Restrictions


Use Restrictions

Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the Nathaniel "Bill" Barnes Collection must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder.

Index Terms

Barnes, Nathaniel, 1909-
Dickie McBrown’s Band (Musical group)
Hopkins, Lightnin', 1912-1982
Lee, Ira
Littleton, James
Owens, Terry
Rice Hotel (Houston, Tex.)
Silver Gate Singers
Williams, O. J.
Musicians--Houston (Tex.)
Third Ward (Houston, Tex.)

Related Material

Nathaniel "Bill" Barnes Oral History, HMRC Oral History Collection, October 28, 1992.

MSS 345 Jimmy Ford Collection

MSS 322 Arnett Cobb Collection

MSS 252 Milton Larkin Collection

MSS 403 Illinois Jacquet Collection

MSS 337 Jewel Brown Collection

MSS 442 Herb Brochstein Collection

MSS 349 I.H. Smalley Collection

MSS 390 Campbell Tolbert Collection

MSS 336 Florence "Bu" Pleasant Collection

MSS 397 Art Foxall Collection

MSS 388 Ed Gerlach Collection

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Nathaniel "Bill" Barnes Collection. Collection Number MSS 441. Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

Acquisition Information

Donated by: Nathaniel Barnes, January 18, 1992.

Processing Information

Processing by: Charles Stephenson and Tammy Jordan July 5, 2007. Biographical note contributed by Tammy Jordan.

Detailed Description of the Collection


Oral History Interviews

Box Folder
1 1 Personal interview transcript, September 16, 1992



Box Number
1 MSS 441.001 Portrait of Bill Barnes in later years, seated, smoking cigarette
MSS 441.002 Bill Barnes playing piano later years
MSS 441.003 Bill Barnes seated in Houston Metropolitan Research Center’s Special Collections Room with Dr. Louis Marchiafava and others during the 1992 oral history interview
MSS 441.004 Bill Barnes seated in Houston Metropolitan Research Center’s Special Collections Room with Dr. Louis Marchiafava during the 1992 oral history interview
MSS 441.005 The Silver Gate Singers photographed with heavyweight champion, Joe Lewis. no date