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Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers

Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers

African American Sacred Harp singing conventions in southeastern Alabama began near the last third of the 19th century. While singing, for the most part, the same repertory of Sacred Harp music as their Anglo American counterparts, a vocal stylistic difference is clearly apparent.

During a typical convention singing the participants arrange themselves in a square according to voice part, the basses facing the trebles, and the tenors facing the altos. A song leader stands in the middle of the square leading the singers first through the notes to the songs and then through the lyrics, a practice emanating from the traditional singing school classes, where singers are taught to sing the notes and then the words.

The singing style takes its name from the The Sacred Harp, first published in Philadelphia by B. F. White and E. J. King. The musical style, however, predates the publication of the book. The itinerant singing-school master was a common phenomenon in colonial New England, and various masters competed in their efforts to devise an instructional system where congregations could be taught to sing "by note." By the mid-eighteenth century, religious songsters were commonly employing shape-notes to indicate the sounds based on the old British solfege system using syllables fa sol la fa sol la mi. From the fuguing tunes of William Billings to the popular melodies of Jeremiah Ingalls, religious songs found widespread circulation in hymnbooks such as William Walker's Southern Harmony, which was popular throughout the South in the early nineteenth century.

The important innovation introduced into the singing school tradition during the "Second Great Awakening" in the early nineteenth century was the idea, first utilized by New Englander William Law, of assigning different shaped note-heads corresponding to the fa sol la and mi syllables. As the singing school tradition declined in New England the new shape-note songsters, such as Kentucky Harmony, Virginia Harmony, Union Harmony, and Southern Harmony gained widespread popularity in the South. It was in this setting that the Sacred Harp made its initial appearance in Georgia in 1844. Despite the rapid decline of four-shaped tune books in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Sacred Harp, in its various revisions, has maintained a popularity and currency in the South unequalled by any of the other shape-note songsters.

There are three major revisions of the Sacred Harp that enjoy current usage. The White revision, published in 1911 by J. L.White is now used only in a few isolated areas of north Georgia. The most recent revision, the Denson revision, published in 1935, is by far the most widely used of the Sacred Harp revisions. It is found at most Sacred Harp sings throughout Georgia, in North Alabama, and in parts of Mississippi and Tennessee. It is the Cooper revision of the Sacred Harp, first published in 1902, that is used by both white and black singers in South Alabama. W. M. Cooper, from Dothan, Alabama, prefaced his edition with the statement "The selections are from the old Sacred Harp, remodeled and revised, together with additions from the most eminent authors, including new music." The remodeling" he referred to was the transposing of a number of songs into a lower, more-easily sung, key. The "revising" was the standardization of the alto part in all selections, a practice followed by the later revisers. Many of the melodies are adopted from traditional tunes including Celtic jigs and dance tunes. Typical of folk tunes they are often in the lonian and Aeolian modes, and occasionally the Mixolydian and Dorian. The song texts are taken mostly from the verses of the popular eighteenth century hymnists, most notably Isaac Watts and Charles Worley. The "additions" were a number of gospel songs and camp-meeting selections. The Cooper revision was again copyrighted in 1907, 1909, 1927, 1949, and 1960, and is currently published by the Sacred Harp Book Co., Inc., of Troy, Alabama.

Discography

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Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers : Desire for Piety : 00  1 CD :  : 80519

Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers : Desire for Piety

Review: An invaluable document of a musical tradition stretching back to the Civil War that is on the verge of disappearing forever, Desire for Piety is a rare example of black Sacred Harp singing from rural southeast Alabama. The songs are from the B.F. White Sacred Harp, the hymn book primarily used by the seven million shape-note singers in this country. Liner notes by Henry Willett, an acknowledged authority on shape-note singing.

Songlist: The Happy Sailor, Blooming Youth, Weeping Pilgrim, There We Our Jesus Shall Adore, Bound for Canaan, Cuba, Firm Foundation, Florida, Desire for Piety, Ragan, Struggle On, Ninety-fifth Psalm, Fallen by the Way, Happy Home, Coronation, The Dying Boy, The Father's Boundless Love, The Christian's Flight, Give Me Just A Little More Time

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2836c | 00 1 CD | $14.95 | A Cappella Shapenote Music


Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers : The Colored Sacred Harp : 00  1 CD :  : 804332

Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers : The Colored Sacred Harp

Review: African American Sacred Harp singing conventions in southeastern Alabama began near the last third of the 19th century. While singing, for the most part, the same repertory of Sacred Harp music as their Anglo American counterparts, a vocal stylistic difference is clearly apparent. During a typical convention singing the participants arrange themselves in a square according to voice part, the basses facing the trebles, and the tenors facing the altos. A song leader stands in the middle of the square leading the singers first through the notes to the songs and then through the lyrics, a practice emanating from the traditional singing school classes, where singers are taught to sing the notes and then the words.

Songlist: Prayer/Come To Jesus Now, Alone, The Signs of The Judgement, Florida Storm, Shout and Sing, Jesus Lives In My Soul, My Friend, Call Upon The Lord, Welcome Address, My Mother's Gone, Rejoice and Sing, Prosperity, Am I a Soldier of The Cross, It Is Finished

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2837c | 00 1 CD | $17.95 | A Cappella Shapenote Music

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