History of the National Convention

The National Sacred Harp Singing Convention was founded in Birmingham in 1980 by Hugh McGraw and Claude H. Rhea, dean of the school of music at Samford University. From the first, this convention was seen as transcending region, race, and choice of editions: singers were invited from all regions of the United States, including African American singers as well as others in Alabama, Florida and Texas who usually sang from the Cooper Revision of the Sacred Harp.

The first session took place in the Leslie S. Wright Fine Arts Center at Samford University on June 26-29, 1980 (a fifth weekend) and lasted four days. There were 761 persons registered, representing 10 states, 167 leaders and 344 songs. On Thursday, only twenty selected male singers and teachers led for twenty minutes each, in imitation of the practice at 19th-century singing conventions. Those leading were Hugh McGraw, Bob Denson, W.A. Parker, Raymond Hamrick, Leonard Lacy, Loyd Redding, M.F. McWhorter, Roy Avery, Chester Wootten, J.H. Ballinger, Toney Smith, John Hocutt, Dewey Williams, Kelley Beard, George Woodard, Warren Steel, Donald Ross, H.J. Jackson, E.E. Pipkin and E.J. Akin.

Saturday was "ladies' day": a slate of female officers, chaired by Ruth Brown, called exclusively female leaders. Before the afternoon break a quartet performed six songs: Joyce Walton, Beverley Coates, Jane Peppler and Charlene Wallace, accompanied by Martha Woodard on banjo. On Friday and Sunday leaders were called promiscuously as usual. A booklet published after the convention included the names and addresses of all registrants, photographs and minutes; a boxed set of eight audio cassettes documented the entire proceedings.

Beginning with the second singing in 1981, the convention has met for three days, the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the Third Sunday in June. Although it was intended to attract singers nationwide, and there were singers from outside the South from the very beginning, it was not until the late 1980s that Hugh McGraw's dream began to be fulfilled, as increasing numbers of new singers attended, at first from New England and Illinois, later from twenty or more states and several foreign countries, notably the United Kingdom.

While other conventions move from year to year, the National Convention has so far remained in the Birmingham area. A list of the locations and chairmen of this convention follows, based on minute books and the recollections of participants:


    2013   First Christian Church                       Mark Davis
    2012   First Christian Church                       Mark Davis
    2011   First Christian Church                       Mark Davis
    2010   First Christian Church                       Mark Davis
    2009   First Christian Church                       Mark Davis
    2008   First Christian Church                       Mark Davis
    2007   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    2006   Unitarian Universalist Church                Buell Cobb
    2005   Unitarian Universalist Church                Buell Cobb
    2004   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    2003   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    2002   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    2001   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    2000   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    1999   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    1998   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    1997   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    1996   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    1995   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    1994   Trinity United Methodist Church              Buell Cobb
    1993   Briarwood Presbyterian Church  		Buell Cobb
    1992   Recital Hall         Samford University      Virgil Phillips
    1991   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1990   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1989   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1988   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1987   Gymnasium            Homewood High School    Hugh McGraw
    1986   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1986   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1985   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1984   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1983   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1982   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1981   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw
    1980   Wright Auditorium	Samford University      Hugh McGraw


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