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Sacred Harp Singing

The music on this CD was everything I had hoped it would be: moving, haunting, filled with life and religious spirit, and beautiful. My only complaint–and I wouldn’t have posted this review if I didn’t feel this complaint so strongly–is the poor quality of the liner notes. This is really an example of how NOT to write liner notes for a CD: filled with gratuitous academic jargon, imprecise, historically inaccurate, and burdened by what can only be described as a paralytic anxiety over political correctness. For example, the author, Barbara L. Hampton, refers to Alabama farmers as "Europeans," when she means white Americans. Similarly, the pioneers of "Colored Sacred Harp" singing aren’t Africans, they’re African-Americans–or maybe, for the sake of brevity, Black people (?!). There is in general a stiffness, a squareness to the way this scholar expresses herself: for example, she references the assertion "Africans isolated within the plantation system established their own communities" to an academic study published in 1987! One strains to imagine how the singers appearing on this CD would react to the idea of needing to footnote such a statement! Check it out!

The sound may not be up to contemporary standards on this disc, but historically it is perhaps the most important recording ever released of Sacred Harp singing. Part of the Library of Congress’s Archive of Folk Culture series, this was the first recording to be created “in the raw,” from an entire singing convention, replete with the heart-rending testimonials and the sound of singers getting into pitch. Folklorist Alan Lomax with George Pullen Jackson (at the time the foremost authority on Sacred Harp singing) recorded this fascinating document. Jackson authored several works and did extensive research on the often secular roots of Sacred Harp songs and delved into the lives of important original composers such as Billings, Read, and Ingalls. Since its release, Sacred Harp Singing has become a Rosetta stone of sorts for contemporary singers, who can compare their sound against that of the first authentic recording of a convention, the Alabama Sacred Harp Singing Convention of August 1942. –Mike McGonigal




Sacred Harp Singing Review


This was a very poor quality recording!! I wonder if the singers knew they were being recorded; probably secretly recorded and thus the poor quality. -Read Reviews-

This one of the most interesting CDs of shape note singing that I have never heard. It is wonderful to hear these voices. My only quibble is that I wish they put the mic someplace central rather than right next to that one guy. I love his emotional and powerful singing but I can hardly hear anyone else. Since I see that some of the participants of the convention are reviewing the CD, I wonder if these can be appended to the sacred harp songbook? I hope there will be additional conventions that feature this music so that we can hear it and record it more clearly. That being said, this is a beautiful collection.

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