7. Older Recordings (Pre-1977) of Traditional Singers Reissued on CDs and Internet

Note: Some recent reissues of important old recordings of entirely Sacred Harp singing are listed in Chapter 5: Recent Recordings of Traditional Singings.

Note: Lists of tunes presented on some of the recordings described below can be found in Berkley Moore's Shape Note Recordings Index.

Recordings from 1965-1975 by the Sacred Harp Publishing Co. currently on YouTube. An historic series of LP record albums were produced by the Sacred Harp Publishing Co. from 1965 through 1975. Five out of the six original LP recordings featured a select group of the finest traditional Sacred Harpers, many now deceased, singing representative songs in a studio under the direction of Hugh McGraw. Although these were not the first recordings of Sacred Harp singing, Buell Cobb points out that they "stand above the rest in scope and consistency." The six LP albums were numbered 101-106. In the early 2000s, they were combined into three compact discs (and three cassette tapes) by Morning Trumpet Recordings headed by Ted Mercer and Richard DeLong. Extensive sound restoration and digital remastering were performed. The CDs featured liner notes written by Buell Cobb and graphics by Lisa Grayson. However, when the CDs were sold out, reprinting was not done and Morning Trumpet ceased operation. Hopefully the CDs will be reissued somehow in the future. In the meantime, the original LP recordings have been placed by Sacred Harp singer Jeremiah Ledbetter on his YouTube channel. Photos of the back sides of the LP record jackets are also provided. The recordings are as follows:

[NEW] "The Singing Creel Family from Old County Line Church-Corner Community, Alabama." This LP, from the 1960s or 1970s, was produced by the Sacred Harp Publishing Company but not reissued on CD. It features singing by the extended Creel family, one of the most prominent large families of Alabama Sacred Harp singers. Seventeen songs are performed by a relatively small number of singers. The singing, recorded on location in the church, is more gentle (no fuging tunes) than what is encountered at large singings, and women's voices predominate. The recording is now on YouTube. The back side of the record jacket is shown there and contains a short essay about the Creel family written by Edith Creel Tate, but no date.

Recordings by the East Central Alabama Sacred Harp Singers directed by Elder H. Roy Avery. Issued in 1968-1973 on LP records, these were studio recordings of groups of about 20 singers. According to Ted Mercer, this group of singers kept to themselves somewhat and had an extremely cohesive sound. According to Berkley Moore, the relatively intimate sound is reminiscent of that of Denson-quartet performances on 78 rpm discs. Songs from two of the recordings were reissued on a CD called "Eternal Day" by Morning Trumpet Recordings. Recently Jeremiah Ledbetter placed three of the original albums on his YouTube channel. The recordings are as follows:

"Christian Harmony Album No. 1" directed by John H. Deason (1974). Jeremiah Ledbetter digitized and uploaded the 18 tracks of this LP recording on the Prestige label to his YouTube channel. A photo of the back of the record jacket with detailed, but difficult to read, information is posted in four Chapters (thumbnails for song tracks -- scroll to the right to find the four identical photos). The recording sounds like a studio recording of songs from The Christian Harmony (Alabama version) sung by traditional singers. Each song begins with seven-shape solmization.

"I Belong to This Band: 85 Years of Sacred Harp Recordings" This CD, released in late 2006 by Georgians Lance Ledbetter of Dust-to-Digital Records and Matt Hinton, coproducer of the film "Awake My Soul," is a remarkable compilation of recordings by traditional Sacred Harp singers from the first ones in 1922-28 to 2006. The earlier singing groups, who recorded on 78 rpm's and are here represented by 17 interesting and varied remastered tracks, are Original Sacred Harp Choir (1922, TX?), Denson's Sacred Harp Singers and Quartet (1928, AL), Alabama Sacred Harp Singers (1928), Huggins and Phillips Sacred Harp Singers (1928, AL), Daniels-Deason Sacred Harp Singers (1928, AL), Lee Wells and His Jasper Alabama Sacred Harp Singers (1930), Denson-Parris Sacred Harp Singers (1934), Roswell Sacred Harp Quartet (1955, GA), and notably S. Whitt Denson singing all four parts and playing the piano (1960). The recording also contains 13 tracks from the 2006 Henegar-Union Convention on Sand Mountain in Henegar, AL, a very strong singing depicted in "Awake My Soul;" Accompanying the recording is a 16-page booklet containing an excellent essay and notes on each track by Prof. Warren Steel. Long-time traditional singers Amanda Denson Brady, Richard DeLong, and William L. Green contributed historical information. This recording is remarkable and probably unique for interspersing and contrasting the relatively gentle, often polished, and intimate singing styles of the older recordings, which sometimes feature piano accompaniment, with the full-voiced a cappella singing of the large 2006 convention class. Several interesting photos of Sacred Harp singings are presented in the booklet and on the CD jacket. The album is currently out of stock, but tracks can be downloaded from Dust-to-Digital's Bandcamp site. Used copies may be available from Amazon.

"Sacred Harp Singing," by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singing Convention of August, 1942. Eighteen songs sung by traditional singers and recorded by George Pullen Jackson and Alan Lomax. Although the sound reproduction is poor because of limitations of the equipment of the time, the unique qualities of traditional Alabama Sacred Harp singing are clearly heard. The excellent liner notes indicate that some of the songs are led by Sacred Harp greats Paine Denson, Howard Denson, and A. Marcus Cagle. The recording had been available in LP and cassette format produced by the Archives of Folk Culture, Library of Congress (catalog No. AFS-L11). It was reissued on CD by Rounder Records (#1503) in 1997 but is now out of print. [NEW] Recently Jeremiah Ledbetter uploaded the recording to YouTube.

Reissues of 78 rpm Sacred Harp Recordings from the 1920s by County Records. John Bealle writes: "These two long-awaited reissues represent the earliest Sacred Harp music recorded. They are vintage recordings of Sacred Harp singers mostly from the 1920s and 1930s released originally as commercial recordings on 78 rpm records. They were recorded in studios by ensembles of singers who were recruited by talent scouts or traveled on their own to record. The original discs have been held by collectors for many years, and County Records has done a fine job of assembling the best available source discs and digitally mastering the tracks. These recordings have a different sound from those made today at singing conventions. Most are smaller ensembles, and sometimes piano or organ accompaniment is included in the performance. The close-to-the-mic recording techniques of this era give an intimate glimpse at the breathtaking vocal performances from bygone years of Sacred Harp singing." However, County Records went out of business in 2018. Their CDs may be available on Amazon.com

"Sacred Harp and Shape Note Singing 1922-1950s." This 4-CD set (JSP-77175) is a compilation by a British recording firm, JSP Records, of 81 tracks originally issued on 78 rpm. Many of the tracks are also found in the above two CDs, but others have apparently not been previously reissued on CD. Transfers were done by Chris King and liner notes were done by Pat Harrison. Each track can be downloaded at no charge from a Discogs webpage with appropriate conversion software. Disc 1 contains singing by Dye's Sacred Harp Singers, Denson Quartet, Fa Sol La Singers, Roswell Sacred Harp Quartet, Allison's Sacred Harp Singers, and Elder Golden P. Harris. Disc 2 contains singing by Alabama Sacred Heart Singers, Denson's Sacred Heart Singers of Arley, Alabama ["Heart" not a misspelling here], Middle Georgia Singing Convention, Okeh-Atlanta Sacred Harp Singers, Huggins and Philips Sacred Harp Singers, Lee Wells and His Jasper Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, and Pioneer Sacred Harp Singers. Disc 3 contains singing by Allison's Sacred Harp Singers, Daniels-Deason Sacred Harp Singers, and Bassette Quartet. Disc 4 contains singing by Dye's Sacred Harp Singers, Denson-Parris Sacred Harp Singers, Denson Quartet, Georgia Sacred Harp Quartet, Moody Bible Sacred Harp Singers, and Original Sacred Harp Choir. This 4-CD set may be available in a few online record stores as well as Amazon.com.

Folkways recordings available from Smithsonian Folkways . Most or all items in the huge catalog of Folkways LPs can be purchased as downloads or made-to-order real-time-duplicated cassettes and CD-Rs from Smithsonian/Folkways Records, a branch of the Office of Folklife Programs of the Smithsonian Institution. Detailed song lists for each recording can be obtained from the search engine at their store. Recordings can be ordered online or by mail or fax. Check Customer Service for prices and ordering information. The catalog entries that pertain to early American shape-note and Sacred Harp music are as follows:

CDs with a few tracks of traditional Sacred Harp singing originally issued on 78-rpm records.

A number of recent commercial albums of traditional roots music contain one or more tracks of Sacred Harp singing originally recorded in the 1920s and 30s on 78-rpm records. Berkley Moore, John Garst, and Chris Noren have provided information about the following albums:

"Goodbye Babylon." The Atlanta-based label, Dust-to-Digital, founded by Lance Ledbetter, has issued a comprehensive survey of Southern gospel music on a six-CD set containing 135 songs recorded by foremost singers and groups from 1902-1960, plus 25 fire-and-brimstone sermons from 1926-1941. Included with the CDs is an oblong 200-page book with illustrations, complete lyrics, scripture quotes, and notes by experts on the music. The CDs and book are presented in a cedar box with clusters of raw cotton. Reviewers have used words such as "spectacular" and "breathtaking" to describe the set. The tracklist shows seven Sacred Harp numbers, all but one by small performing groups, including the Charles Butts, J.T. Allison, Daniels-Deason, and Okeh-Atlanta Sacred Harp Singers, often with piano or harmonium accompaniment. One recording (of HEAVENLY VISION) is a field recording. The accompanying book includes an essay on Sacred Harp singing by David Warren Steel, and there is a page of additional information about each song and the singers. The album is currently sold out, but music downloads are available from the Dust-to-Digital Bandcamp website. Used copies may be found on online stores such as Amazon.

"How Can I Keep From Singing?: Early American Rural Religious Music," Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Yazoo 2020 and 2021. Berkley Moore reports: "Vol. 1 has Allison's Sacred Harp Singers doing WEEPING PILGRIM and the Daniels-Deason Sacred Harp Singers doing CORONATION. Vol. 2 has only the Rosewell Sacred Harp Quartet singing WEEPING MARY, (including the "wrap around" at the end)."

"Before the Blues: The Early American Black Music Scene" This three-volume set (Yazoo 2015-2017) contains a large variety of genres of black and white vocal music recorded in the 1920s and 30s. Vol. 1 (presumably with the complete number 1635-2015-2) contains one Sacred Harp song, CHRISTIAN SOLDIER (S.H. page 57), sung in 1936 by the Denson Quartet (a quartet of men of the Denson family).

"Times Ain't Like They Used To Be: Early American Rural Music" Vol. 3 contains one Sacred Harp tune, SWEET RIVERS as sung by the Allison's Sacred Harp Singers in 1928. Yazoo 2047.

"The Half Ain't Never Been Told," Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (Yazoo 2049, 2050) contain reissues of old 78 rpm recordings of a variety of traditional religious music, including several selections of shape-note hymnody by "Alabama Sacred Harp Singers" and others. According to Berkley Moore, Vol. 1 contains two songs by Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, while Vol. 2 contains one song by Allison's Sacred Harp Singers.

"I'm On My Journey Home: Vocal Styles and Resources in Folk Music" (New World Records 80223-2) contains the title song sung by the Denson Quartet. It is the only Sacred Harp song on the recording. More information may be on the New World Records website.

"Oh My Little Darling: Folk Song Types" (New World Records 80245) contains the tune WHITE sung by J. T. Allison's Sacred Harp Singers. More information may be on the New World Records website.

"Mountain Gospel: The Sacred Roots of Country Music" by various artists. (JSP 7755). This is a 4-disc set of around 100 cuts from older recordings. According to Berkley Moore, Disc A has ODEM [Second] by the Roswell Sacred Harp Singers and Disc B has CUBA, by the Alabama Sacred Harp singers (directed by J.C. Brown and Whit Denson), RAGAN and THE OLD SHIP OF ZION, by Allison's Sacred Harp Singers, and CORONATION, by the Daniels-Deason Sacred Harp Singers. There are no Sacred Harp performances on Discs C and D. Order from online stores such as CDUniverse.

Steven L. Sabol (sabol@his.com)
HTML version by Warren Steel (mudws@olemiss.edu)