The Makers of the Sacred Harp

The Makers of the Sacred Harp

by David Warren Steel, Richard H. Hulan

Paperback(1st Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


This authoritative reference work investigates the roots of the Sacred Harp, the central collection of the deeply influential and long-lived southern tradition of shape-note singing. Where other studies of the Sacred Harp have focused on the sociology of present-day singers and their activities, David Warren Steel and Richard H. Hulan concentrate on the regional culture that produced the Sacred Harp in the nineteenth century and delve deeply into history of its authors and composers. They trace the sources of every tune and text in the Sacred Harp, from the work of B. F. White, E. J. King, and their west Georgia contemporaries who helped compile the original collection in 1844 to the contributions by various composers to the 1936 to 1991 editions.
The Makers of the Sacred Harp also includes analyses of the textual influences on the music--including metrical psalmody, English evangelical poets, American frontier preachers, camp meeting hymnody, and revival choruses--and essays placing the Sacred Harp as a product of the antebellum period with roots in religious revivalism. Drawing on census reports, local histories, family Bibles and other records, rich oral interviews with descendants, and Sacred Harp Publishing Company records, this volume reveals new details and insights about the history of this enduring American musical tradition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252077609
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 11/01/2010
Series: Music in American Life Series
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

David Warren Steel is an associate professor of music and southern culture at the University of Mississippi. Richard H. Hulan is an independent scholar of American folk hymnody.

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the university of illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-07760-9


David Warren Steel

Sacred Harp singing is a community musical and social event, emphasizing participation, not performance, where people sing songs from a tunebook called The Sacred Harp, printed in music notation using four shaped notes. It is the preeminent living reflection of the music of early American psalmody. While not identical to the congregational singing of eighteenth-century New England, it preserves several fundamental characteristics of that era, including a complex of musical skills learned in singing schools and an eclectic repertory of religious part-songs by European and American composers, printed in an oblong book. since the nineteenth century, Sacred Harp singings have employed a distinctive "hollow square" seating arrangement and rotation of leaders; they begin each song with solmization followed by one or more verses of sung text. Despite its reliance on printed materials, Sacred Harp singing is a form of traditional music that stands on the persistent collaboration of generations of composers, songbook compilers, editors, and revisers, singing teachers, song leaders, and singers of all ages who identify with its sincerity, enthusiasm, devotional strength, and deep historical roots.

The present book is an account of the Sacred Harp songbook and the men and women who made it. Benjamin Franklin White and Elisha James King, who compiled the book in 1844, were members of a tradition that was already several generations old. They were among more than thirty-five southern musicians who issued sacred tunebooks printed in shaped notes between 1816 and 1861. They drew on a repertory of English and American tunes popular in the New England states in the years 1770–1810, and they continued to circulate music from this repertory long after it had lost favor in New England. They reprinted or reset tunes published in previous tunebooks, notably William Walker's Southern Harmony (1835). They collected, notated, and harmonized tunes from a flourishing oral tradition, adapting them for use in churches and singing schools. Finally, White and king added their own compositions and arrangements and those of other composers and teachers in their immediate region.

After king's death in 1844, White supervised successive revisions until 1870. In the twentieth century, revisions by W. M. Cooper, J. L. White, and J. S. James competed for the loyalty of Sacred Harp singers. The 1936 "Denson revision," produced at the depths of the Great Depression by s. M., T. J., and Paine Denson, ultimately won the affection and loyalty of the majority of sacred harp singers. The 1991 revision of that book, the Sacred Harp best known today, is the subject of this work.

Part One is a collection of essays exploring the Sacred Harp and its creators in a regional context that included Native removal, westward migration, civil war, family life, and trades and professions. The final chapter in this part explores some of the reasons why Sacred Harp music sounds so distinctive today; here the reader may find it helpful to have a copy of the 1991 revision at hand. Part Two consists of an essay by Richard H. Hulan about camp-meetings and their hymnody, along with biographical sketches of five American hymn writers whose work appears in The Sacred Harp. part Three contains a biographical dictionary of composers represented in the tunebook, many of whom were previously unidentified. Part Four lists the songs of The Sacred Harp by page number, together with attributions and sources for words and music.

This book draws on the work of many writers and researchers. For information about early figures associated with The Sacred Harp, J. S. James's A Brief History of the Sacred Harp (1904) long stood as the sole substantial source of first- or even second-hand information. James had the advantage of proximity to his source: he knew the Whites, Absalom Ogletree, J. R. Turner, and the Reeses. Yet he worked at a time when few local histories were available, and he had little direct knowledge of Talbot county and the many figures associated with that region including E. J. king, Zechariah Chambless, Leonard Breedlove, S. R. Penick, J. L. Pickard, and the Lancaster sisters. His extensive industrial, financial, and political interests must have limited his time for direct research, though he had an impressive library of earlier tunebooks, as well as reference works such as Brown and Butterworth, The Story of the Hymns and Tunes (1906). James worked much of his information into footnotes printed below each song in the Union Harp and History of Songs (1909) and in Original Sacred Harp (the James edition of 1911). These quaint notes were retained and supplemented in the Denson revisions of 1936–71. for those seeking reliable information, they represent a scholarly nightmare in which American singing master Amzi Chapin is confused with F. F. Chopin and Bishop Thomas ken, misidentified as the author of "O come, loud anthems let us sing," was said to have been "educated at New Oxford" fifty-one years after his own death in 1711 and imprisoned "for refusing to sign the Declaration of Independence." Still, the notes provided continuity of historical and biographical lore from the nineteenth century and preserved anecdotes such as that of John Leland's "Mammoth Cheese" and the death of the composer of Antioch from "a falling tree or limb," thus keeping generations of Sacred Harp singers aware of the rich and varied history of the repertory that they sing.

Another work produced by a Sacred Harp singer was Earl V. Thurman's manuscript history of the Chattahoochee Musical Convention. Thurman was hardly methodical in the inclusion or treatment of biographical detail; still, he offered useful information about a large number of singers active in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including many composers represented in the Sacred Harp. Circulated in typescript since the 1950s, this study is now available as part of The Chattahoochee Musical Convention, 1852–2002: A Sacred Harp Historical Sourcebook, edited by Kiri Miller.

The twentieth century saw the beginnings of academic interest in the Sacred Harp and its history. George Pullen Jackson characterized the Sacred Harp as a folk tradition and examined its contents against the background of American folk song. He also provided historical information about its compilers, composers, and singing conventions, primarily in his White Spirituals of the Southern Uplands (1933) and in The Story of the Sacred Harp (1944). Buell E. Cobb, in his masterful 1978 study The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and Its Music, updated historical aspects of Jackson's work, while clarifying the story of the editions and revisions of the songbook and unveiling substantial and authoritative information about e. J. king and his family. More recently, John Bealle in Public Worship, Private Faith: Sacred Harp and American Folksong (1997) has defined the historical and ideological discourse surrounding sacred harp singing, while kiri Miller, in Traveling Home: Sacred Harp Singing and American Pluralism (2008), confronts the persistent ability of the Sacred Harp in our own time to attract and engage a diverse community of singers, many of whom did not experience the tradition as children.

The coverage of twentieth-century composers in the present work would have been nearly impossible without the foresight of Hugh McGraw, longtime executive secretary of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company. While preparing the 1966 and 1971 revisions, Mr. McGraw distributed a questionnaire to living composers and to family members of recently deceased ones. The mimeographed forms asked for basic vital information (birth and death dates and places, parents' and children's names) and also for education (including musical training), occupations, and "other information," with a place for survivors to write "something you remember about them singing Sacred Harp." These files, held at the Sacred Harp Headquarters and Museum in Carrollton, Georgia, and updated by the addition of similar information about composers represented in the 1991 edition, proved invaluable in the early stages of this project.

In addition to Hugh McGraw, a large number of individual singers, family members, and other researchers have contributed information and anecdotes about the composers: Blake Adcock, Aldo Ceresa, Velton Chafin, Buell Cobb, Richard DeLong, Robert E. Denson, Jimmie Lou Gilmore, Julietta Haynes, Mike Hinton, Brent Holcomb, Don Howard, David Ivey, Kathryn James, Margaret Keeton, Richard Mauldin, Hugh Bill McGuire, Dollie Miller, Brad Preston, Nathan Rees, Jeff Sheppard, Jonathon smith, Barbara Swetman, Charlene Wallace, chloe Webb, Charles Wells, Mike White, Ruth Wyers, and especially the late Amanda Denson Brady, whose keen memory and historical sense brought forth many recollections of her family.

This work incorporates the painstaking labor of the late William J. Reynolds, the dean of Baptist hymnology, in identifying textual sources; he was responsible for the text attributions in the printed songbook. Other scholarly specialists in early American hymnody have also contributed from their research, notably Richard Crawford, Harry Eskew, Thomas B. Malone, Carol Medlicott, David W. Music, and Nikos Pappas.

Two contributors, both skilled researchers, have gone beyond giving of their considerable knowledge of the history of the Sacred Harp: John Plunkett and Robert L. Vaughn have actively pursued original research in libraries, archives, and online, and they have freely contributed their findings to this book. They have worked tirelessly to locate and identify composers in Georgia and Texas, respectively. Among the greatest pleasures in working on this project was the collaboration with these gentlemen in frequent exchanges of electronic mail where each successive reply brought out additional details and questions for discussion, followed by disappointment on encountering blind leads or elation on establishing a secure identification.

As originally conceived, this book was to have contained biographical sketches of all the poets and textual sources of the songs in The Sacred Harp. Much of this material would have duplicated that in standard reference works such as John Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology, and this approach would have failed to do justice to the large number of anonymous texts, especially spiritual songs from camp-meeting sources, that characterize the tunebook. The contributions of Richard Hulan have addressed this issue. With his unparalleled knowledge of American camp-meeting hymnody, he clarified the role of the preachers and compiler-publishers and has identified a small number of American poets who have left their indelible mark on the Sacred Harp and its singers. He has also reviewed and corrected all the text attributions and sources in Part Four of this work.

This book received continual encouragement from the Sacred Harp publishing company and from the Joe Beasley Memorial foundation, both of which have given it generous financial support. I would also like to thank the L. J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs foundation for their support. I am grateful to Mike Hinton and Richard Schmeidler, respectively, for their role in negotiating the arrangements with the press. Mr. Schmeidler has also provided invaluable help in copyediting. The university of Illinois Press, with its wide-ranging series Music in American Life, seemed a natural fit as publisher of this study. From the beginning, editor Laurie Matheson has been encouraging, helpful, and knowledgeable in guiding a novice author through the review and editing process and in seeing this book through publication, a task shared by Daniel Nasset, Angela Burton, Copenhaver Cumpston, copyeditor Jane Zanichkowsky, and indexer John Bealle.

All through the making of this book, my wife Anne has been at my side; she has sacrificed much to see this work come to light, and it has been substantially bettered through her keen and sensitive eye. It is to her, my sweet singer of Zion, and to Sacred Harp singers everywhere, that this book is dedicated.

Excerpted from THE MAKERS OF THE SACRED HARP by DAVID WARREN STEEL RICHARD H. HULAN Copyright © 2010 by Board of Trustees of the university of illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Introduction David Warren Steel xi

Part 1 The Book

1 The Origins of the Sacred Harp 3

2 The Chattahoochee Valley 12

3 The Westward Migration 14

4 The Sacred Harp and the Civil War 16

5 Musical Families 20

6 Professions and Occupations 32

7 Teachers and Tradition 36

8 The Styles of Sacred Harp Music 39

Part 2 The Words

9 Frontiers of the American Hymn Richard H. Hulan 57

10 Sketches of Selected Poets and Hymn Writers Richard H. Hulan 70

Part 3 The Composers

11 Biographical Sketches of the Composers 81

12 Sacred Harp Composers, Arranged by Birth Date 173

Part 4 The Songs

13 The Songs of the Sacred Harp l79

14 Sources for the Songs 247

Notes 257

Bibliography 263

Index 299

Customer Reviews