Recorded samples of Sacred Harp singing

The Sacred Harp is often called "singers' music," rather than "listeners' music": only by participating can one fully enjoy the music. A recording cannot capture the spirit of Sacred Harp singing—it can only reproduce the sound of the music. Still, yielding to numerous requests, I offer here a few MP3 recordings by traditional singers, especially for the benefit of curious persons who may not have the opportunity to attend a singing. These are taken from compact disk recordings that are available for sale, and are posted here for non-commercial use with the permission of the singers or their families.

In most field recordings, you may hear the leader say the page number of the song, perhaps with instructions on the number of verses or repeated sections. The leader or another singer will "key the music" by singing one or more notes of the opening chord. Then you hear the assembled singers (the "class") sing the music with solfa syllables instead of words. This is followed by one or more verses of the poetry itself.

The first pair of recordings, from the Joe Beasley Memorial Sacred Harp Album, was made at Old Flatwoods Church near Nauvoo, Walker County, Alabama in 1954. The original recordings were made on magnetic tape by Joe Beasley. The low pitch and rapid tempos are typical of this region. The two-CD set, produced by the Joe Beasley Memorial Fund, is available for $25.00 plus $2.50 shipping from Sarah Beasley, 431 Woodland Road, Bessemer, AL 35020.

The following recordings, from the Wootten Cousins album, were made at the home of Terry and Sheila Wootten, Ider, Alabama, in February 1995, and represents a distinctive regional and family style. All the singers, some ninety in all, were members of the Haynes and Wootten families. Listeners will note the slow tempo (and four-beat pulse in Sharpsburg) and the rather high pitch associated with the Sand Mountain region. The Wootten CD is available at $17.00 postpaid from Terry Wootten, 3342 County Road 141, Ider, AL 35981.

The final recordings, made much earlier than the above, are among those marketed commercially by major record companies in the 1920s and 30s. They are sung by relatively small groups of singers, and their style is influenced by family singing and gospel quartet performance; they are often accompanied by instruments. Present Joys was recorded on 16 April 1928 by the "Alabama Sacred Harp Singers," a group directed by Alabama singers Whitt Denson and J.C. "Cadd" Brown. It is available in the boxed CD anthology Goodbye Babylon from Dust-to-Digital. I'm on My Journey Home was recorded on 29 October of the same year by the Denson Quartet, which included the same two singers plus Robert E. Denson and Evan E. Denson. According to singer Amanda Denson Brady, a Victrola was set up to play this record at Evan Denson's funeral in 1933. It is available on the compact disc Religion Is a Fortune: Sacred Harp Singing from County Records, CD-3532. Page numbers are from the 1911 James edition used by the singers in 1928.

Almost any song in The Sacred Harp may be heard from Robert Stoddard's recording index.

Warren Steel (mudws@olemiss.edu)

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