13. Lined-Out Hymnody and Psalmody

This ancient style of singing religious music involves a leader chanting each line of text prior to its singing in unison by a congregation lacking hymnals or psalters. This style was used in some British churches in the 1700s and before and was brought to North America by colonists. The New England singing school movement was in part an effort to "improve" upon this style of singing. This chapter is limited to resources available in the U.S.

"Songs of the Old Regular Baptists: Lined-Out Hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky," sung by members of the Indian Bottom Association of Old Regular Baptists, moderated by Elwood Cornett. This excellent and informative recording, issued in 1997, presents authentic traditional lined-out singing of twelve hymns by around 70 Old Regular Baptists at their church in a coal-mining region of Appalachia, digitally recorded in 1992 and 1993 by Prof. Jeff Todd Titon of Brown University. On the last band, several singers individually describe the meaning of this form of singing in their lives, expressing sentiments well known to tradition shape-note singers. The detailed liner notes include excellent essays on Old Regular Baptist worship practices by moderator Elwood Cornett, theology by Prof. John Wallhausser, and music by musicologist Jeff Todd Titon. The song texts with text and tune origins are provided for each song presented. Smithsonian Folkways Recording SF 40106.

"Songs of the Old Regular Baptists, Vol. 2: Lined-Out Hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky," sung by members of the Indian Bottom Association of Old Regular Baptists, led by various leaders. Volume 2 features additional singing similar to that in Vol. 1 described above. SFW50001

"The Gospel Ship: Baptist Hymns and White Spirituals from the Southern Mountains," recorded by Alan Lomax. This 1977 LP, reissued on CD in 1994, has two dissimilar parts. The first part presents excellent field recordings of hymn lining out by ministers and congregations of Regular Baptist (similar to Primitive Baptist) churches in Kentucky. A remarkable style of preaching alternates with lined-out hymn singing (in unison) in an ancient style of medieval origins. The second part presents more conventional folk vocals, with instrumental accompaniment, of spirituals such as "The Old Gospel Ship" and "I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger" by Southern singers such as Ruby Vass and Almeda Riddle. There are superb, extensive liner notes by folk music authority Alan Lomax. New World Records 80294-2. The CD is out of print. Jeremiah Ledbetter has recently placed the recording on YouTube.

"Brethren, We Meet Again - Southern White Spirituals" Vol. 4 of Alan Lomax's "Southern Journey." Rounder Records issued thirteen CDs of folklorist Alan Lomax's remarkable collection of 1959 field recordings of Southern folk and traditional religious music. Vol. 4 (ROUN1704, or 011661-1794-21), released in 1997, contains the material currently on the New World album "The Gospel Ship" described above. The CD is out of print. Single tracks can be downloaded from Amazon.com, where used CDs can be purchased as well.

Benjamin Lloyd's Hymn Book: A Primitive Baptist Song Tradition, book/CD set edited by Joyce Cauthen and published by the Alabama Folklife Association. This work, issued in September 1999, is described by John Bealle as follows: "[It] is a book/CD set consisting of five essays concerning a Primitive Baptist words-only hymnal published in Alabama in 1841 and still in use by congregations across the nation. John Bealle served as consultant, copy editor, index compiler, and writer of the introduction. Essayists are Joyce Cauthen, Beverly Patterson, William Dargan, Oliver Weaver, and Joey Brackner. The book contains detailed liner notes to an enclosed CD which features 20 performances of hymns sung in black and white congregations in a wide variety of styles. Four hymns sung by the Lee family in Hoboken, Georgia are included as well as hymns sung by Donald Smith and the Deason family and singers from Sand Mountain, Alabama. Published with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Folklife Program of the Alabama State Council on the Arts. The book is available in hardbound format for $29.92 plus shipping. Order online at the Alabama Folklore Association Store

The Sound of the Dove: Singing in Appalachian Primitive Baptist Churches, by Beverly Bush Patterson. This is a book with associated hour-long cassette tape of music. (The book is described in the chapter on books about shape-note music.) Regarding the recording, Berkley Moore writes: "Almost all of the 78 musical examples are of entire hymns and almost all are variants of Sacred Harp tunes, taken from churches that use words-only hymnals." The congregation generally sings in unison and with ornamentation; some of the hymns are lined out by the pastor. The set is available from the University of Illinois Press, 1325 South Oak Street, Champaign, IL 61820. $23.00 for the paperbound book (ISBN 978-0-252-07003-7) and $11 for the cassette tape (ISBN 978-0-252-02173-2).

South Georgia Folklife Collection radio archives. Brief programs on Sacred Harp singing in the area of Hoboken, Georgia were produced by Laurie Kay Sommers and aired on Georgia Public Radio in 1998 and 2000. Three of these, including one on hymn lining, were part of the 13-part Wiregrass Ways series produced by WWET in Valdosta and supported by the Georgia Council for the Arts. Listening to the archives over the Internet requires up-to-date free RealPlayer software. The program on hymn lining is as follows: Hymn Lining featuring Elder Tollie Lee and members of Sardis Primitive Baptist Church, Folkston, GA; Deacon Kenneth Sirmons and members of St. Luke's Primitive Baptist Church, Valdosta. GA.

Traditional Scottish Hymnody

Traditional Gaelic hymnody from Scotland and nearby islands has some striking similarities to the style of Primitive Baptist lined-out singing in Appalachia. The recordings below are listed for those interested in this connection.

"Salm - Gaelic Psalms from the Hebrides of Scotland". Cleve Callison reported a Soundcloud page with the following description written in 2018: "The recordings of Gaelic Psalm singing presented in the release are among the best ever captured. They document a living tradition, a form of religious singing from the Hebrides in Scotland, which is still practiced in Lewis. In Gaelic psalm singing, a precentor leads, and from here voices follow, moving together like the murmurations of birds. These recordings of Gaelic Psalm singing were originally made over two evenings in the Back Free Church on the Isle of Lewis in October 2003. The singing was spontaneous and totally unrehearsed. The recordings are now presented on vinyl for the first time by Arc Light Editions." One can listen to the tracks online apparently for free on the Soundcloud site, and one can purchase the recording in vinyl LP format from Norman Records in the UK. (Thanks to Cleve Callison for this information.)

"Gaelic Psalms from Lewis." (Scottish Tradition Series 6). This is a recording of lined-out psalmody from the Isle of Lewis off Scotland, sung by several traditional singers and a congregation. Originally produced on vinyl by the the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh.

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