Music In The Blood: Ken Stanton Music Celebrates 70 Years, 3 Generations

Mar 26, 2019

Seventy years ago, Cobb County was a bustling place of commerce, but what it needed was music.

The county had only one 4-lane highway and six — that's right six — schools, but none of them taught music education.

That's where Ken Stanton Sr. changed everything.  

Music has been in the Stanton blood for decades. And the passion for business is in its third generation as Zack Stanton considers the future of Marietta-based Ken Stanton Music.

Located next to a major railroad, the Marietta square in 1949 was the social hub for shopping, entertainment, business and government. The Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre was just 14 years old when Kenneth Stanton Sr. opened his first music store in a 10-by-20-foot space in the back of Hodge’s drug store.

In 1935, Kenneth Stanton began teaching music in a Kansas high school. His passion followed him into the military where he provided morale to troops as a music officer during World War II.

After the war, Kenneth Stanton settled in Marietta, and introduced music education to students by creating the first band programs thoughout the local schools. One by one, Kenneth Stanton established a band program and acted as director until a replacement could be found. By 1949, Kenneth Stanton was able to focus on fine tuning his retail business.

At 47 years old in 1958 — a year before Guitar Center entered the music business — Stanton took on another job as father. Ken Stanton Jr., called Kenny, was not his father’s first child.

Kenny, now 60, said his father grew up during the Great Depression and was strict while raising his children. While Kenny’s friends played after school, he spent his afternoons and weekends cleaning the music store.

“I couldn’t stand it,” Kenny said. “But I’m thankful now because I have a really good work ethic.”

As a young adult yearning for independence, Kenny went to Florida where he worked in construction. Not long after, he realized he’d rather work in music business and returned to Georgia, where his father had two stores in 1985.

By 1991, the year the internet went public, Kenny had already taken financial responsibility for the future of the business.

Zack Stanton (left) stands with father Kenny Stanton in the drum section of the Cobb Parkway Ken Stanton Music store.
Credit Megan Butler

Similar to how his father learned the trumpet, Kenny taught himself how to play the drums, and Kenny said he wanted to put his stamp on Ken Stanton Music by adding guitars and drums to his father’s classical collection.

“Music is everything for me, so it was cool to come here and give it a shot,” said Kenny. “I wanted to get into the rock and roll side of things.”

The two stores at the time only sold traditional band and orchestra instruments, so Kenny began buying drum sets and fixing them up to sell.

“I wanted to make my own mark with the company,” said Kenny.

He not only revamped the business by bringing in guitars, amps and drum kit lines but also expanded it as well.

In 1997, superstore Mars Music moved into town forcing family-owned businesses like the Stantons’ nervous about competition. Taking a bold risk, Kenny bought three local stores, one of which was one the same road as Mars Music: Cobb Parkway. That’s where the headquarters for the five Georgia stores still stands today.

Stanton’s local history and deep roots within the community outweighed the flamboyant size of Mars, which went completely out of business only four years later.

The first dollar earned in the 119 Cobb Parkway Ken Stanton Music store is framed in Kenny Stanton's office. He bought the location when Mars Music hovered on the same street.
Credit Megan Butler

“We’re just very grateful that we've been able to do what we've been able to do,” Kenny said. “Not everybody gets to do what their passion is.”

The legacy left by Kenny's father lives on as instruments continue to be rented out to students throughout the now 41 schools in the county.

“Cobb County's got one of the strongest band programs in the country and my father has a lot to do with that,” Kenny said.

On top of that, more than 1,000 music lessons are taught each week throughout all the stores by a team of experienced instructors.

According to Kenny, learning to play music can be beneficial in developing social skills and discipline through practicing.

“When you’re up front and somebody comes in and gets the guitar or drum kit that they’ve been wanting to get forever, and they find it and they're happy, lit up, excited. I mean, that's fun. That’s awesome,” Kenny said.

From catalogs and mail order to an online store, Ken Stanton Music has adapted to the changing of times throughout its 70-year history.

When employee Billy Darling started working in the store, sales were written on paper tickets because there were no computers.

“Kenny has done a lot with this company,” Darling said.

Being involved in the stores is a big priority for Kenny; his offices are located right in the back of the Marietta store.

“I think for any business to be successful, you have to be there,” Kenny said.

His son, Zack Stanton is 31, and has been with Ken Stanton Music for seven years, not including the time he worked summers in the stock room. After graduating from college with a business administration degree, he is now involved with marketing and expanding online sales.

Although baseball has always been more of his forte, Zack says he enjoys the business aspect and getting to spend time with his father.

As far as the future goes for Ken Stanton Music, it’s not certain yet if Zack will follow his predecessors and take the reins of the company one day.

Zack remembers his grandfather as being an excellent storyteller who always amplified the house with jazz music.

That tradition carries on in the form of lasting friendships with his father and the other employees who help create an amicable work place culture.

“Ideally, you know, it's our family's name so we always want it to be well and continue if it can,” said Zack. “But right now, we're just having fun and working hard and fighting the good fight.”