Huntsville Sacred Harp Newsletter

Number 29, September 1998

David Ivey, Editor (
16021 Deaton Drive, Huntsville AL 35803
(205) 881-5291

95th United Convention to be Held in Huntsville

The United Sacred Harp Musical Association will hold its annual two day convention in Huntsville on Saturday and Sunday, September 12 and 13 at the Madison Church on the grounds of Burritt Museum and Park. This convention last met in Huntsville in 1989. The singing will run from approximately 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. both days. Please plan to attend!

Highlights of Trip to Newport, Rhode Island

July 1964
Diary of Artie Ballinger
Route 2, Fayette, Alabama
Editor's Note: The following is Mrs. Artie Ballinger's informal diary account of a seven-day bus trip taken by a group of singers, mostly from West Alabama, to perform at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island in 1964. Mr. Lloyd Wood organized the trip and obtained funding to cover the transportation, lodging, and dining expenses. We extend our thanks to the Ballinger family for allowing us to publish Mrs. Ballinger's account of that trip here. Thanks to Linton Ballinger and Warren Steel for their help in supplying the article and other background information.

Tuesday, July 21, 1964

This trip was made from July 21st till July 27th, seven days. We left Haleyville, Alabama at eight o'clock. There were 28 on the bus - picked up 5 more at the bus terminal at Florence, Alabama. Left Florence at nine o'clock on Highway 72 going through Athens, Alabama. We saw many big peach orchards here and trucks were in the orchards gathering the peaches - they surely looked good. Passed through Huntsville, Alabama about 10 o'clock, still on Highway 72, North, John Neal Highway. This is a beautiful highway and getting near the the mountains now. We stopped at Scottsboro - ate dinner at Charles Restaurant. Made some pictures here and left about 1:00 o'clock on Willow Street. Our Bus Driver is Mr. F.S. Sizemore. He wanted us to sing some for him - seemed to like it - said so, anyway. Mr. Crider played his French Harp for us. He surely can play one and we surely enjoyed it.

We are now in Tennessee - going into South Pittsburg - now Jasper, Tennessee. This is pretty country here. Crossing Marion Memorial Bridge - sure a pretty bridge. They are skiing on the water - the river goes along the road for a long way - mountains on one side, river on the other. The mountains are so high, one after another that it makes waves in the sky. Now going into Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Confederate Town. Now close to Ruby Falls, looking at Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain. This sure is a beautiful place. We stopped at the Bus Station here - got a new bus driver, Mr. P.A. Bostic. Crossed the river and it is raining. The clouds are so dark and they seem so close. This bus driver wanted us to sing some for him, too. They seem to enjoy it. Passing through Daisy, Tennessee. The mountains are smalled now and lots of spruce pine trees along the road. It's about 3:00 o'clock now. The rain has stopped. Now in Dayton, Tennessee - still on Highway 72 north. The clouds are below the mountain tops - it sure is pretty. There is some farming here - several tobacco fields. This is Rockwood - next is Midtown - then Kingston - all small towns. Now 4:00 o'clock and on a 4-lane highway going into Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The traffic is terrible here, and we are on a six lane highway now. Knoxville is a big place. We stopped here, got a new bus driver, Mr. Lot Mills. We left Knoxville about 5:00 o'clock. The clouds are about all gone. Now on Highway 11. Can see the Appalachian Mountains now - a big chain of mountains as far as you can see. Sure a pretty view. The sun is about out of sight behind the mountains - going through Rutledge, Tennessee. This sure is red land - don't see many pine trees here - a big lake (Cherokee Lake). They are irrigating the fields of tobacco here. Rogersville, Tennessee - this is a large place - the lights are all on. Now about 8:00 o'clock - Kingsport, Tennessee - we ate supper here at the Howard Johnson Café. Leaving Kingsport about 9:15 p.m.

In Virginia - now going into Roanoke, Virginia. We stopped here and got a new bus driver, Mr. Don Turner - sang some for him. Wytheville, Virginia - we crossed the Appalachian Mountains and Skyline Drive. Several are sick - had to stop when we got over the mountains. My ears popped going up, but when we started down was lots worse (ha). Didn't anyone sleep much this night, but we had lots of fun. It is about 3:00 o'clock now. We are in Harrisonburg, Virginia - it is now daylight.

Wednesday, July 22, 1964

Shenandoah Valley - now in Washington, D.C. passing the National Airport - so many big planes. We are moving so slow - so much traffic - never saw so many cars. Can see Marriott Hotel - largest in the world. The bus driver is carrying us through important places, telling us about everything - it surely is interesting. Crossing Potomac River - sure is pretty. See the Capitol - Jefferson Memorial - Treasury Department Building - now seeing Washington Monument - it sure is high. Looking down on Capitol Museum, here is the big black horse and rider. Now on Washington Drive, Pennsylvania Avenue. We traveled all around the Capitol. The cannas are in bloom and are so beautiful. This is the Avenue that President Kennedy's body was carried down for his funeral. Here is Department of Justice Building - Post Office - Coast Guard Building - a big white horse - the State Building - all the pretty flowers in bloom and so many pretty flags everywhere. There is a long row of people, ever so long, waiting to go through the White House. Here is the Ambassador Hotel. We stopped at the Bus Station. Ate breakfast here and changed busses for the first time - something wrong with the other bus. Got a new bus driver, Mr. Charlie Ross. Leave Washington about 8:00 o'clock. Can see the Baltimore-Ohio Railroads - trains about as thick as cars (ha!) on a four-lane highway. This is all just a town all the way for miles. All the roads we travel on now are toll roads. We are now on the John F. Kennedy Highway. Going into tunnel under the Hudson River - it sure is pretty - will be in New York when we come out on the other side. The state line is about the middle of the tunnel. This road is beautiful - we go under some and above some - just roads every-which-way. Here are some big dairy farms. Off to the left we can see a small part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Now crossing Burlington Piston Bridge in New Brunswick, N.J. - can see Eastern and American Airlines - it is on the side of this road. There are so many big planes. It is raining a little now. We can see the Statue of Liberty - looks like a shadow in the sky because of the rain. Going under Lincoln Tunnel under Hudson River - this is about two miles long. Here is Manhattan Harbor - we saw two big submarines in the harbor - so many big boats on the Atlantic Ocean. Empire State Building in sight. We stopped at the bus station in New York and got a new bus driver, Mr. Tex Burtice. About 12:30, leaving New York, passing Yankee Stadium on Highway 78 North from Manhattan into the Bronx.

We ate supper in New Haven, Connecticut. Crossed Connecticut River - New London Airport - now see Thames Valley.

Going into Rhode Island - going over a big bridge over the Jamestown River. It is dark again. Getting ready to cross on a ferry to Newport, Rhode Island. It is 8:30 now in Rhode Island. We were told to go in the big M-House. We ate supper, sang awhile and met more singers here. Got to Floredale Courts, got our cabins, had a real good night's rest.

Thursday Morning, July 23, 1964

Everyone seemed so happy, made pictures, and talked to home folks. Ate breakfast at the big M-House, then went to park where the stadium was. This is all outdoors and will seat 14,000 people. We sang three songs Thursday night. Mr. Crider, Tom Harper, and Mary Gardner led these songs. It began to mist rain and turned real cold. The wind blew a good bit. We had to wear our coats all the time we were there and had heat in the cabins. The time here is two hours earlier than our time, but couldn't tell much difference when the sun shined. I never changed my watch - some of the others did.

Friday, July 24, 1964

We all went to outdoor parks and sang. Everyone just sat on the ground - had two or three different places set up for entertainment. Then a French teacher, as our guide, got on the bus and carried us on a tour of Rhode Island. It was founded in 1620. We are on Washington Square going down Waterfront Street. It is a beautiful sight - just a few small hills, can see Jamestown Harbor. Now passing all the big mansions - Ida Lewis Home - Stewart Duncan House - Jacqueline Kennedy's Mother's and Father's home. Can see the golf course where Kennedy and Eisenhower played golf. Barbara Hutton's Home - this is such a big castle. They are selling several of these big homes for white girls colleges on tip of Island now. The guide said that on a clear day you could see Spain from here (joke) - was straight across to Spain. On Ocean Drive. Here is a big house and the guide said when the big storm came, it washed all the furniture out the door. Can still see effects of storm. Here are some private beaches. Gooseberry Beach, named for Gooseberry Island. Passing Belcort Castle - a horse fanatic lived here - his horse lived on the bottom floor of his home. It was said that he put white sheets on them at night when they laid down - had horses, carriages for all purposes. Now passing a marble house, made all together of marble - police standing guard around it. This is the richest street in the United States. The Astor Castle - can see swimming pool where the Kennedys went swimming and the pool was hot or cold water. Here is the Nathaniel Hale Home - Vacuum Tower - Benedict Arnold Home - Shamrock House. Going close to well that supplied the colonists with water when they first landed here - still a strong well of water. Wish all could hear this man tell history of the Island. It is most interesting. The beach is beautiful, but no one on it today - it is so cold. We made the trip on our bus. The bus driver stayed with us all the time we were here on the Island carrying us everywhere we go. He is so nice - all the bus drivers are wonderful, and all the people on the Island are so good to us. We can never forget it. We are back at the cabins - had another good night's rest.

Saturday Morning, July 25, 1964

The temperature is 36 degrees - the wind is blowing cold. We ate breakfast at M-House and at 12:30 o'clock went on another tour. This time we went to the Breakers Mansion - Berwind - Vanderbilts. As we enter there is a big hall 45 feet from floor to ceiling. Words can't describe this house - something interesting on every wall. It is located on the waterfront - can see boats, lighthouses - such a beautiful view. The furniture is all old and so pretty. There is a playhouse for their daughter and I never saw anything so pretty. All the furniture made for a small girl. On the way back to cabins - going by Easton Beach - Surf Hotel. We stopped awhile at shopping center. The same guide that carried us yesterday went with us today. We found out his name is Mr. John E. Menka. He sure is a nice man - so interesting to hear him talk. Back at cabins - they are so nice. We are all like one big family visiting each other, singing together.

Sunday, July 26, 1964

It is Sunday morning. We are back at Park singing for the last time. Sat on the stage about 2 hours. The sun is shining and warmer today. The Cumberland Mountain Boys sang this morning and the Stanley Brothers. It has all been sacred songs and we sure enjoyed it all. It is about 11:30 and we are getting a sandwich, ready to start home. We have enjoyed it all so much - but getting started back South will be O.K. - Now on Ferry - it's about 3 miles across on the ferry. You can see all the big mansions built along the banks and the banks are all rocks. Had many rock walls around the homes in Newport. It is just a vacation island - just grow flax and nursery farms on it. It is a little cloudy this morning and we are on the same road back to New York and Washington. Seems warmer, but the bus being air conditioned - can't tell in here. These Greyhound busses sure are nice with such courteous drivers. We stop again in New York - get a new bus driver for the first time in a week. We hate to see Mr. Burtice leave. The new bus driver's name is Mr. John Dennings. We are back to Lincoln Tunnel - and the pretty highway. Some of these toll bridges have 16 lanes. It is getting late. Passing a big fiberglass factory, an immense building. We stopped in Newark, N.J. to eat supper. Now in Richmond, Virginia. Camden - got a new bus driver - Mr. H.A. Slate. On Highway 11 back in the mountains. The fog looks so pretty in the mountains - it is dark now, going through Wytheville. Ate breakfast here.

Monday, July 27, 1964

It is about 9:00 o'clock and back in Tennessee - Kingsport - Rogersville. We see our first wreck here - had to stop a short time to clear the road. A sign says the temperature is 72 degrees here - guess it is getting hot outside now. Getting close to Knoxville and from here we can see a high tower - highest in the world - W.A.T.V. - it is 1,751 feet above the ground and 36,000 feet above sea level - it is Channel 10. You can hardly see the top. We ate supper at Knoxville - got another bus driver - Mr. Lot Mills. We sang some for each new driver that got on the bus. They all seemed to enjoy it. We have two preachers and one school teacher with us. We have had such a nice trip. We are entering Chattanooga now - about 3:00 o'clock. It has been a little hazy cloudy most all day. We stopped in Chattanooga - got another bus driver - Mr. L.F. Weir. This one carried us home. We are on 72 South now and getting close to home - temperature 80 degrees now. Back to Jasper, Tennessee - South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

Now entering Alabama - about 4:00 o'clock. Scottsboro - Huntsville - Athens - we stopped at Florence. Mr. & Mrs. Jenkins, Mr. George Maddox, Mr. Harvey Fannin and Linda got off here. We ate supper in Florence. Sang most all the way to Haleyville. It was such a wonderful trip and now we are in Haleyville - 9:00 o'clock and time to separate. We have been together seven days and nights and enjoyed every minute of it.

* * * * *

Hamilton and I wish to thank everyone for the courtesy shown us on the trip and especially Mr. Loyd Wood who invited us to go. I wrote this travelling and didn't get all we saw or did. We got several folders and made some pictures. The ones who made this trip are:

Mr. & Mrs. Elmer Conwill
Mr. & Mrs. Tom Harper
Mr. & Mrs. M.L. Jenkins
Mr. & Mrs. Will Cantrell
Mr. & Mrs. Willie Berry
Mr. Harvey Fannin and Linda
Mr. & Mrs. Bob Fannin
Mrs. Pernie Pelfrey
Mr. Robert Aldridge
Mrs. Merl Aldridge and Elene [Elene Stovall]
Mr. & Mrs. Preston Crider
Mr. & Mrs. L.C. Crider
Mr. Roston White
Mr. Elmer Kitchens
Mr. & Mrs. Jessie Adams
Mr. & Mrs. Loyd Wood
Mrs. Mary Gardner and Buddy
Mr. George Mattox
Mr. & Mrs. Hamilton Ballinger
The late Artie Ballinger, a lifelong Sacred Harp treble singer, was the mother of eleven children, all of whom became devoted Sacred Harp singers. Mrs. Ballinger was the mother of Huntsville/Madison County singers Linton Ballinger and Lomax Ballinger and the grandmother of Jimmy Ballinger and Phillip Ballinger.

Capital Singing a Resounding Success

By Joseph M. Jones

Not many feet from the spot where Confederate President Jefferson Davis took the oath of office in 1861, more than a hundred shape-note singers gathered in 1998 to perform their art in unaccustomed splendor - making a type of music in the Alabama Capitol rotunda that was as common and unremarkable in Davis' day as it is quaint and unknown today.

In the middle of the last century dozens of shape-note tunebooks were in everyday use throughout the Southland. Today four books are in some degree of use in Alabama and surrounding states. The thinning number of people who sing from these four collections gathered in Montgomery January 31 for an unusual all-day singing in the glitter and gold-leaf of the historic, renovated State Capitol, coming at the special invitation of the Alabama Council on the Arts.

About 110 men and women, black and white, sang in turn from two mainline versions of The Sacred Harp, 1991 (Denson) Revision and Cooper Revision, The Colored Sacred Harp, plus the Christian Harmony.

With outsized portraits of past Alabama governors looking on from the singing level, and huge murals depicting the state's past towering far above them, they sang for four hours the old songs of faith that unite them at present and far into the past.

The sound, reverberating around and to the top of the 75-foot dome, was adjudged by all to be extraordinary, fully satisfying. So far as is known this was the first time such a singing had been held in the 162-year-old building. This was done at the suggestion of Mr. and Mrs. Jim Carnes, Montgomery singers (actually it was her idea), who were busy playing hosts, along with Joey Brackner, Ann Kimzey, and others of the Alabama Council on the Arts. Steve Grauberger of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture was busy recording, and hosting - which meant, among other things, bringing out more chairs for an overflow crowd.

With the approval of the Alabama Historical Commission, custodian of the building, they now plan to make it an annual event, the Saturday before the first Sunday in February.

The singers came from everywhere throughout Alabama - New Brockton, Ozark, Gadsden, Banks, Lanett, Birmingham, Huntsville, Morgan County - and from Hoboken and Atlanta, Georgia, and Newton and Smith counties in Mississippi. The couple who had traveled the greatest distance was Douglas and Chieko Cook of Washington, D. C. The oldest singer was J. C. Hardin of Banks, AL, who, at 92, stood most of the day operating his video camera, recording the whole. He took time out to lead a "lesson", leaving his camera unattended.

Notably, six or eight blacks from the Wiregrass Singers of the Ozark area were there, using The Colored Sacred Harp in addition to the other books. An observer was impressed with the easy familiarity between the two groups, whites leading lessons from the black book and blacks leading from the other books. It was clear the two racial groups from the Wiregrass had a marked congeniality developed through years of interaction, which was confirmed in a conversation with a member of the white group who apparently knew all the black songs and sang notes and words of each from memory.

During the singing an assortment of tourists strolled through adjoining capitol areas, some puzzled and bemused, and maybe some startled. A tourist from Massachusetts showed an unusual degree of interest, had the tradition explained to him and asked good questions as to the origin, whether it was a religious activity exclusively, the aspect of race, etc. He was surprised when he learned that the shape-note music movement in America began in his own New England two centuries ago, migrated to the Southland where it flourished for many decades and is now being exported to the far corners, including New England.

Capitol authorities had made lunch easy, permitting the use of a spacious corridor and an adjoining auditorium. Many brought food, and the hosts ordered in eats for the others. It was, in all, an exhilarating, happy occasion in an uncommon historic setting.

Joe Jones, retired Public Affairs Officer of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, former editor of The Alabama Baptist Light, and husband of Frances Jones, is a frequent contributor to this newsletter. We thank Joe for his report.

Convention Hotel

Kings Inn
11245 S. Memorial Parkway
(800)824-3513; (256)881-1250
$37 plus tax. Ask for Sacred Harp Group Reservation.

See the United Convention, including maps and photographs, on the World Wide Web at

Next Huntsville Friday Night Singing

Friday, November 6
Burritt Museum

1999 Huntsville All-Day Singing

Saturday, May 1
Burritt Museum

Please send your news, announcement, or article for the newsletter to David Ivey, 16021 Deaton Drive, Huntsville, AL 35803; or email to

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