Fifty years ago, Alan Lomax (folk music collector) recorded the first United States Sacred Harp Musical Association convention at Fyffe, Alabama. His recordings, published by the Library of Congress and later reissued by Rounder records, introduced Sacred Harp music to a wide audience outside the South. And, with the influx of many non-traditional singers since then, his recording is one of the best testaments to traditional Sacred Harp singing. This Saturday and Sunday, the United States Sacred Harp Musical Association returns to Fyffe. Get there early--it's going to be crowded. But check Youtube, Flickr and Facebook in the next few days--there's bound to be plenty of modern field recordings of the event. (Previously: Singing School, 'The Lost Tonal Tribe').
I don't suppose anyone could call John Etheridge famous. He was the president of the Sacred Harp Book Company, the publisher of the Cooper Revision of the Sacred Harp. He was a mainstay of the the Florida State Convention, and the arranger of the popular tune Mercy Seat. And there is an interview with him (and the other board members of the company) as part of the Alabama Arts Radio Series. Still, I don't suppose many know his name. Yet he was "a great man and a great singer," and I suspect that many on Metafilter would be glad to have and to make as much music as John did in his life. John Etheridge died on December 5, 2008.
Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old, a film by Alan Lomax, takes a loving look at the talents and wisdom of elderly musicians, singers, and story-tellers from southern American folk traditions. All the musicians featured in the film have soul and musical energy to spare: great, great performances and engaging reminiscences make this film a real treat. Please see the [more inside] for a collection of links to several of the outstanding performers featured in the film. [more inside]
Awake, My Soul is a new documentary on Sacred Harp singing, an American musical tradition that's strange, beautiful, and very much alive. Previously discussed and beautifully explicated in this post.
Sacred Harp singing uses a system of four shaped notes first introduced by Little and Smith in The Easy Instructor in 1801. The four shapes denote the four syllables (fa, so, la, mi) of the scale used in American Singing Schools. Of course, solfege has been codified since at least the 11th century, but the adoption of shape-notes dovetailed with the tradition of Sacred Harp singing in the United states. With it's emphasis on participation and instruction in the moment, Sacred Harp singing is in the midst (NPR story) of a renaissance. MP3s here and here. Here is an excellent set of resources, and here is set of essays on everything from history to how to organize a Sacred Harp sing. Here is an interactive index to the 1991 edition of the traditional hymn book called, you guessed it, The Sacred Harp. Here's a special link to Manhattan Sacred Harp resources for jonmc who mentioned Sacred Harp before in the blue.