Sacred Harp Singing

New Hope Baptist Church, (US 45) Lauderdale Co. [Miss.]

Abbott Ferriss (with Herbert Halpert, N.Y. City Theatre Project)

Recordings and interviews made May 21st (Sunday), 1939. At New Hope Baptist Church, 10 m. S Meridian, on US 45, Lauderdale Co., near Clarke Co. Line. Accompanied by Miss Jerome Sage (FMP), Miss Eri Douglass (FWP), Mrs. Browne (FMP).

Flies and gnats were annoying in the New Hope Baptist Church. Windows were open to drive away the summer heat of Sunday noon. Slowly sweating members of the congregation and friends from surrounding counties sat in pews facing the rostrum. Handkerchiefs and song books were busy fanning the flies.

Neither heat nor flies, however, annoyed the Sacred Harp singers. Intense on reading the shaped notes and in carrying their individual parts (there were three parts to each song) and fervent in following the words of the hymns, each of probably 50 Sacred Harp singers animated their love of the songs by singing.

The morning's program was going strong at 11 A.M. From Lauderdale, Clarke, Jones, Kemper, Choctaw (Ala.) and probably other counties, the singers had gathered. It was the first singing held at New Hope in four years.

A leader directed the singing of several songs. Short talks were given between sets of songs. Another leader then took charge.

Judge Arthur Busby, a circuit judge who formerly lived in Waynesboro, Wayne County, but now resides in Meridian, Lauderdale, Co., spoke. "Singing is a tonic for the soul," he said. He declared that the writers of the Sacred harp were as much inspired as were writers of the Gospel. He said that were the non-religious dictators of Europe to hear the sacred songs, their souls would be moved.

Then, Ed Griffin, Rt. 2, Quitman, led singing. He is a tall, well built man with dark tanned skin. This tan is contrasted by closely-cropped grey hair. His father directed Sacred Harp singings for approximately 40 years. An elderly member of the congregation spoke in tribute to Griffin's father, who evidently died several years ago. He said that the father had done more than anyone to keep alive the love of the Sacred Harp. He said that the father had lived constantly for others. Now, he said, his son is carrying forward with the Sacred Harp. Ed Griffin is president of the Clarke County Singing Convention. At this meeting, however (held in Lauderdale County, which has no convention, and is attended by members from other counties), Griffin was president of the day's convention. Ed Carter is vice-president. (Note: Griffin is also vice-president of the State Singing Convention.)

Griffin began singing as a boy, and could probably sing all day wthout repeating a tune. He knows most of the selections by heart. He had a lemon in his pocket.

In leading, he would announce the number of the page, point with his hand to the three sections of benches where sat the bass, "tribble," and tenor, giving out the key. He would then say, "Sing it." The voices would sing the notes (fa, sol, la, etc.). Griffin would say: "Alright, let's turn the words aloose now." He directed with his arm, moving toward one group, then another. When the song was over, he applied his handkerchief to his forehead.

Before the morning session was dismissed for "dinner on the grounds" the singers were cautioned. "Don't eat so much that you can't sing."

A majority of those present were farmers. Men wore coats, chiefly blue and grey. Women wore hats, many with flowers. The church was practically filled, although more were listening to the singing than were singing.

Dinner was laid on long tables beneath shade trees adjoining the church. The food brought by each housewife was placed on her table and served by her. There was chicken, pickle, pie, cake, coffee, salad, ripe peaches and other things. Iced water stood in barrels. Both men and women brought plates, saying, "I see you are a stranger here, won't you help yourself."

No age group was present; instead, all were represented: children, young, middle aged, old.

After about an hour, the leaders called the members into the church.

This particular singing was given in honor of Mrs. G.W. Martin, the only member of the New Hope Baptist Church who sang the Sacred Harp. She lives near the church. Mrs. Martin sings "high tribble."

When Mrs. Martin took her seat, she said: "I'm done sung down."

Pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church is the Rev. Debs L. Stennis.

It is unusual to note that many young people sang the Sacred Harp. After recordings were made, Miss One Griffin, daughter of Ed Griffin, led several songs. Two small girls, about the ages 11 to 13, also led in singing.

Singers for recordings were 8 women, 1 young woman and 13 men, mostly past middle age.

Magnolias were moved from the table and three pews were arranged in a triangle. Ed Griffin stood in the center.

1. Bound For Canaan, p. 82

While singing, many outside the triangle beat time. After re-playing recording, congregation was highly amused, laughed, chuckled for several minutes. The record was criticized for lack of bass. Mike was rearranged, bass moved closer.

2. Jerusalem, p. 53

3. Lenox, p. 40

4. Greenfield, p. 127

This was a favorite of Ed Griffin.

5. Sardis, p. 470

6. Traveling Pilgrim, p. 278

A member said to me: "They're singing better now. Meal's settled. Just like ball players. He can't play well right after a meal.

7. Murillos Lesson, p. 358

7. Amazing Grace, p. 45 (New Britain)

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