9. Video Resources


YouTube.com and Vimeo.com videos of shape-note singings. The fastest growing area of Sacred Harp recording (audio and video) is on YouTube and Vimeo, where new videos of shape-note singing are added almost weekly. The videos, which are too numerous to list here, are generally under 10 minutes in length and are of amateur quality (with a few exceptions). Many depict the singing of only one song. To find these videos, one should search YouTube and Vimeo using terms such as "Sacred Harp," "shape-note singing," "Christian Harmony," "Shenandoah Harmony," etc. Specific tune names can be searched as well. These videos, along with the FaSoLa Minutes apps for smart phones (described in chapter 2), are the most convenient places for someone to learn how a specific song sounds when sung by an experienced class. Search using the main search window and also click on "Browse Channels" and search there. For videos of singing of songs from The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition, an index of mostly videos with some audio-only files is found on Les Chants du Denson 1991 (The Songs of Denson 1991) on the Sacred Harp Auvergne (France) website. Also Brian Sears created in 2014 a YouTube album "Singing Through the Sacred Harp" containing videos of the first 189 songs (through p. 254) of the 1991 Edition, in order.

"Shape Note Singings," documentary produced in 1971 by Georgia Public Broadcasting, directed by David Fisher. The 28-minute black-and-white video features precious scenes from the 1971 Georgia State Sacred Harp Convention in Villa Rica, GA, some historical explanation with sketches by Richard Perry, and an additional 12 minutes of a singing workshop for high-school choir students led by Hugh McGraw. The first part provides a memorable glimpse of the Denson-book Sacred Harp scene in Georgia and Alabama in the early 1970s, before non-Southerners began to participate. The program shows the leading of six songs by prominent singers Lloyd Redding, Charlene Wallace, Raymond Hamrick, Mrs. Forney Cobb, R.E. Denson, and Dan Brittain (then a relative newbie). Ruth Denson Edwards read the list of deceased during the Memorial Lesson. Other noteworthy aspects include the singers well-dressed as if for church, the limited body motion of leaders while leading, the lilting style of singing "Easter Anthem," and the pronounced raising of the sixth notes and disregard for the accidental sharps in "Greenwich." Regarding these singing practices, Warren Steel wrote when announcing this video: "To those who have learned to sing in later times and in other regions, but wish to sing in a traditional manner (i.e., "seek the old paths, and walk therein"), I commend this videos to you." The last 11-12 minutes of the program are the beginning of a singing school taught by the incomparable Hugh McGraw. He taught only the major scale and then taught the class to sing the simple but beautiful song "Mear." The video was professionally produced but as seen on YouTube is grainy with some imperfections. It was transferred to digital format by Dan Brittain and posted in 2019 by David Brodeur.

"Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp" by Matt and Erica Hinton, Standard One-Disc and Special Two-Disc Editions The Hintons, filmakers and Sacred Harp singers from Atlanta, Georgia, produced a feature-length documentary film and DVD, released in 2006, on the history, music, and traditions of Sacred Harp singing. As described in detail on the movie's outstanding Web site, over the course of seven years, the Hintons painstakingly amassed hundreds of hours of digital video footage at traditional Sacred Harp singings (from the Denson/1991 book) in Georgia and Alabama and interviewed the most prominent traditional Sacred Harp singers and composers. "Awake, My Soul" includes historical material illustrated by rare archival images, interviews with singers who share their often moving personal histories, and the music itself. Long-time Sacred Harp singer and historian Buell Cobb states: "I found it mesmerizing to see, in the context of a film interview, people I've known for years -- and hear them tell things about their background, their introduction to Sacred Harp, etc., that I had never known. The deft weaving together of so many strands of story, of testimony, of old photographs, of roving camera, of stirring music, makes for a very compelling hour and a quarter." The film is narrated by Jim Lauderdale, edited by Jennifer Brooks, researched and co-written by John Plunkett, and produced by Mac Powell and Tai Anderson. Subtitles accompany most of the interviews to enhance comprehension. The film has been shown at singing conventions and on many public television stations around the nation with very positive feedback. In 2007 the Hintons released a two-DVD Special Edition which contains the original documentary (found on disc 1 but not listed in the Contents printed on the box), plus deleted scenes, additional interview footages from Sacred Harp singers commenting on a variety of subjects (e.g. memories, community, the music, history, faith, etc.), over two hours of Sacred Harp singing (62 songs) from 1998-2006, and other features. Sacred Harp singers will be amply rewarded for ordering the Special rather than the Standard Edition. The website also has interesting material and photographs concerning Sacred Harp singing, as well as a streaming-audio trailer of as-good-as-it-gets Sacred Harp singing. If the Store button on the website is inoperative, the product is most likely sold out. Mr. Hinton has been working on a future reissue. Used copies may be found on Amazon at higher prices. The Standard Version (75 min) can also be streamed from the IMbd website for a fee.

"Sweet Is the Day: A Sacred Harp Family Portrait." This outstanding video with accompanying substantial guide booklet was issued in 2001 by the Alabama Folklife Association and is a 'must-have' for those seeking to understand the Southern Sacred Harp tradition. In the Association's words: "This video tells the story of the Woottens, one of the singing families who have helped Sacred Harp music survive and flourish for more than 150 years. Filmmakers Erin Kellen and Jim Carnes [who have sung Sacred Harp with traditional singers for decades in Alabama] intertwine in "Sweet is the Day" scenes of family gatherings, singing conventions, and farm life on Alabama's Sand Mountain with family recollections and more than a dozen songs from the revered shape-note tradition. The songs -- sung with technical mastery, emotional power and a breath-taking blend of voices -- are central to "Sweet Is the Day." As this film reveals, Sacred Harp singing has always been more than music. For inheritors like the Woottens, the tradition is a life-shaping force. The enclosed 44-page study guide, by [historian and Sacred Harp singer] John Bealle, further explains the history of Sacred Harp singing, discusses the many traditions attached to it such as singing schools and "dinner on the grounds" and looks beyond Sand Mountain to the large and enthusiastic community of Sacred Harp singers across the nation." The price is $20.00 for one video in VHS or DVD format, plus $2.50 postage and handling regardless of the number ordered. Order from, and make checks payable to, the Alabama Folklife Association, c/o Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, 410 N. Hull St., Montgomery, AL 36104, phone 251-289-0757. Credit card and online orders are now possible.

Website for videostreaming "Sweet Is the Day". The outstanding Folkstreams.net website has been developed by Tom and Mimi Davenport with NEH support to videostream over the Internet films about American traditional culture. The "Sweet Is the Day" website has a section entitled "More About This Film" with links to informative articles that comprise the complete guide booklet for the video (in HTML rather than PDF format) as well as a teacher's guide for using this video in grades 7-8 social studies classes. (Note: If any Folkstreams.net webpage does not open initially, click on the reload button once or twice.)

"The Sacred Harp of Hoboken" produced and directed by Will Payne. This inspiring and highly recommended 10-minute video was made several years ago at the annual Lee family Sacred Harp singing in Hoboken, GA. The video focuses on David Lee and on the meaning of Sacred Harp singing for him, his family, and others of the Hoboken area. It is a professional Emmy-award winning video that, through beautiful images, strong singing from the Cooper Sacred Harp by hundreds of singers, and the profound yet plain-spoken comments of David Lee, captures the essence of Sacred Harp.

[NEW] Videos of Sacred Harp singing in Hoboken, GA in the South Georgia Folklife Collection. Laurie Kay Sommers, folklorist of State Valdosta University, extensively documented Sacred Harp traditions in southeast Georgia, particularly the community and family singing traditions of the Lee family of Hoboken in the Okefenokee area. The online archives contain oral interviews, field notes, video recordings, audio recordings, correspondence, and photographs. There are links to three interesting but short videos in the Let Us Sing: Southeast Georgia Sacred Harp Online Exhibit:

Videos from Sacred Sounds of Alabama event, March 2014. The Alabama Folklife Association created an exhibit entitled "We'll All Sing Hallelujah: Sacred Sounds of Alabama" and on March 15, 2014 held an associated event with speakers and singing at the courthouse in Columbiana, AL, near Birmingham. Steve Grauberger of the AFA posted on YouTube videos of this event.

[NEW] 2015 Midwest Sacred Harp Convention Videos by Bob Borcherding. Mr. Borcherding, a singer from Michigan, recorded this outstanding two-day convention in Chicago with high-quality equipment and produced DVDs in standard and Blu-ray formats for sale. There is one DVD for each day of singing. The convention had a large class, very strong sections, and attendance by prominent singers. The video quality is superior to many convention videos on You Tube. The webpage provides more information, including a sample song, song lists, and pricing and ordering details.

Video recordings produced by or associated with the Joe Beasley Memorial Foundation. These recordings are now available from the Foundation's online store. Audio CDs are listed in chapter 5. (More on the Foundation in chapter 15 of this guide.)

For more information about these videos, contact the Joe Beasley Memorial Foundation, Inc., 431 Woodland Road, Bessemer, AL 35020 (mail) or joebeasleymemorialfoundation@gmail.com (e-mail).

"A Soul Reviving Feast" online video by Sarah Simonson, Melanie Young, and Miles Laseter of the University of Mississippi Southern Studies Documentary Fieldwork class. This 17-minute outstanding and informative video in HD format describes the Southern custom of Dinner on the Ground(s) in three different contexts in Mississippi -- all-day Sacred Harp or gospel singings (described by David Warren Steel), Homecoming and Decoration Day at churches and their cemeteries (described by Joanne Patrick Lewis of Pelahatchie), and the Natchez National Cemetery (described by Darrell White). Prof. Steel is the overall emcee of the video. There are scenes from local Sacred Harp singings in Mississippi and Alabama. Most memorable are the mouth-watering descriptions and images of many of the Southern-style dishes commonly found at these dinners.

Sacred Harp Memories' [Video] Albums compiled by Ron Ryan. Texas Sacred Harp Singer Ron Ryan has created a growing online repository of historical materials generally not found elsewhere -- documents, audio, and video -- related to Sacred Harp singing (both Denson and Cooper books, but mostly Denson). His web repository is called Fasola Memories, but it has been offline for several years. The purpose is to preserve for posterity materials and memorabilia that were produced mainly by singers themselves and that might be eventually lost otherwise. The videos of this collection -- 689 videos in 68 albums, mostly of large singing conventions in the 1980s and 1990s -- are found on Vimeo.

Sacred Harp videos from the Alan Lomax Archives. Currently there are 14 short videos of Sacred Harp singing in 1982 posted on YouTube by the Association for Cultural Equity, which maintains the vast archives of folklorist Alan Lomax. The videos were professionally made with multiple cameras for the PBS series "American Patchwork." There are nine from the 1982 Holly Spring (GA) singing, plus several additional gems, such as a porch singing by the Wootten of Ider, AL, and a heartwarming video of Lonnie and Vivian Rogers. An additional longer video, Alan Lomax on the Sacred Harp (12 minutes) is remarkable and well worth watching: Lomax discussing the future of the Sacred Harp movement in the churchyard with Phil Summerlin and Buell Cobb after the singing finished. He was speaking off-the-cuff, yet his articulate thoughts were profound and prescient in predicting the future enlargement of interest in Sacred Harp music. An additional video made in 1983 features The Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers led by Dewey Williams singing "Give Me Just a Little More Time."

"Amazing Grace: The Story of William "Singing Billy" Walker" This excellent albeit brief online video (9:16 minutes) about arguably South Carolina's (and the South's) most influential musician, William Walker, composer, arranger, and compiler of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion and The Christian Harmony. It was produced by the South Carolina Hall of Fame, which has an exhibit on Walker, and South Carolina ETV. The video features interviews with hymnologist Harry Eskew, Prof. Doyle Boggs of Wofford College, Mac Campbell who is the great great great grandson of Walker, and Prof. Robert T. Kelley of Lander University. The video is now found on YouTube.

Singing School taught by Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard, 1997, Chicago. The Sheppards, life-long traditional singers and Sacred Harp masters from Glencoe, Alabama taught a two-day singing school which was videotaped by Gary Gronau of St. Louis on amateur equipment. A 54-minute video was prepared. According to Mr. Gronau, "This was not an ordinary singing school of the rudiments; rather it was more of a master class in technique, style, and graces of effective leading (including footwork!), combined with a living history lesson and "family stories" of an earlier time, of Tom Denson, A.M. Cagle ..." To order a copy by mail, send a check, payable to Wings of Song, for $10.00 per copy to Gary Gronau, 6240 Rosebury, St. Louis, MO 63105.

"Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old," written, directed, and produced by Alan Lomax. The late eminent folklorist Alan Lomax produced a 60 minute video for the "American Patchwork" series, shown in 1990 on PBS television featuring oldsters responsible for preserving six different genres of American traditional music. There is an 8.3-minute segment featuring the all-day Sacred Harp singing at the Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Bremen, GA, recording in 1982. Lomax admiringly refers to Sacred Harp singing as "country counterpoint" and "backwoods Bach," and is clearly impressed by the singers, many of whom are elderly. The video shows lively traditional Georgia/Alabama style singing from the Denson book, but the most noteworthy moments are interviews with legendary singers Chester and Mac Wootten and a scene from a front-porch singing. ISBN 1-884691-75-7. Available on DVD from several online dealers, for example Media-Generation.net.

Website for video streaming of "Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old." This documentary can be viewed for free by videostreaming over the Internet from the outstanding Folkstreams.net Web site. (Note: If any Folkstreams.net webpage does not open initially, click on the reload button once or twice.)

"Amazing Grace with Bill Moyers". A 90-min special program first shown on PBS television stations in October 1990 and occasionally repeated on PBS stations. The program describes the history of the hymn Amazing Grace, the life of its author John Newton, the singing of the hymn in its many versions by soloists and groups having a wide variety of styles, and the meaning of the words to a variety of people. One segment features white Sacred Harp singers, led by Hugh McGraw, singing the hymn at the regular June singing at the Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Bremen, GA, in 1989. The social aspects of the singing and the meaning of the tradition to Southern singers are also described. Another segment, longer and very interesting, features black Wiregrass Sacred Harp singers in the area of Ozark, AL, led by 91-year-old Dewey Williams. The DVD appears to be out of print. Used copies are available from Amazon.

Videotapes from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. A large number of color videotapes about most aspects of Southern culture were previously listed on the website for the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. In the recent past there were listed in the Catalog three videotapes dealing with shape-note music, but they are no longer listed. Contact the Center at 662-915-5993 to inquire about availability.


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