On October 11, 1969, the Sacred Harp Publishing Company began a practice that continues to this day. The Board of Directors voted to present citations to “honor and express appreciation to loyal supporters and dedicated singers for outstanding work in the company and untiring support of and dedicated service to the cause of Sacred Harp music.” They established six criteria for presentation of the citations:
- Only deceased stockholders are eligible to receive a citation.
- The deceased stockholder must have been active in the formation of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company since 1935 and/or be a stockholder in said company.
- To be eligible to receive a citation, the deceased person must have been a teacher, writer, or an outstanding supporter and leader of Sacred Harp music.
- All citations presented must have been approved by a two-thirds majority of the Board of Directors.
- The citation must be presented to the person or persons approved by the Board of Directors.
- The citation must be presented at the honoree’s Memorial or home singing by an officer or member of the Board of Directors of said company.
The first citations were inscribed on a large paper certificate in an Art Deco style. Later ones were smaller and more permanent. A list of honorees is posted as an online exhibit of the Sacred Harp Museum.
This year, the company presented four citations. The honorees, chosen by a unanimous vote, were Harrison Creel, Jerry Enright, Lonnie Rogers, and George Seiler. These singers came from four different states. Two came to the music as adults in the North; two were lifelong singers from the South. Cancer took both northern singers in the prime of their lives. The southern singers lived long lives and left children and grandchildren who sing. They were different men in looks, style, education, and personality. They were all present at the same singing on just two occasions: at the United convention in 1995 and the Lookout Mountain Convention in 1997.
What these men shared, though, was a powerful love for the music and for the people who sing it. They endorsed the traditions of Sacred Harp and they sought to uphold and preserve those traditions. They sang at every opportunity, and they supported the singings in their area. They were all strong singers who were often chosen to chair a singing or convention. They were men of integrity and faithfulness, and they all exhibited warmth and generosity. They loved to travel, they loved to sing, and they were loved in return by the singers.
Harrison Creel lived in Dora, Alabama, and retired from the Jefferson County Health Department. He was a deacon and song leader in his church, a Master Mason, and a veteran. He was born into a singing family. So was his wife, Flarce Calvert. He traveled to many singings, and it was often said that he could have handled the bass all by himself. He loved to sing “The Family Bible” (p. 342 in The Sacred Harp), and no one else could sing it like Harrison. He also led “To Die No More” (p. 111b) and “The Spirit Shall Return” (p. 512) frequently. He loved good singing and was just as much at home with the Cooper book or Christian Harmony as he was with The Sacred Harp. He also loved bluegrass and was a fan of Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley. He had lost an eye as a young man, but he cut a striking figure in his large frame, often in overalls. Harrison’s contribution to the future of Sacred Harp is most evident in the participation of his family—his four children, many grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren are carrying on the tradition.
Harrison, who died at eighty-four, was not the first Creel to receive a citation. His sister Marie Creel Aldridge received one after her death in 2000. The Creels are usually present at many central Alabama singings and their presence is felt throughout the South and sometimes in the North. They host well-attended singings, especially at County Line Church. Harrison has maintained and enhanced the facilities there.
He was an open, friendly man with a firm handshake. He had a great sense of humor, and he often used his skills to help his neighbors. He was well loved. His funeral last spring was inspiring, and the singing was wonderful. A large crowd of singers filled the church and his grandchildren eulogized him with love. His citation was well deserved. He will be missed.
Jerry Enright first heard Sacred Harp in the late eighties according to his widow, Karen Freund, when he came across an LP in a bin of sale records. He saw a listing for a “concert” of the music in Chicago and he went, expecting to sit and listen. Marcia Johnson told him that he would enjoy it more if he sang, and someone put a book in his hands. Thus began his love affair with shape notes. Jerry traveled often to sing, and he supported the singings in every way: chairing, cooking, mailing out flyers, organizing, even using his carpentry skills to help put a new roof on the unique facility at Stateline on the Georgia/Alabama line.
Jerry worked hard to preserve the traditional singing. His energy and love resulted in CD releases of singings caught on tape in 1968 on Lookout Mountain and in 1972 at Henagar. Kelly Beard gave Jerry his collection of reel-to-reel tapes, old minutes books, and other memorabilia because he knew they would be in good hands. Jerry gave Sacred Harp his energy, dedication, respect, and love. In return, he received joy, friendship, comfort, peace, and purpose.
Jerry was a “little bearded fella”, as Bud Oliver used to say, and he made his presence known in a quiet, loving way. He traveled often from Chicago to north Alabama and he felt most at home singing out of the red book there. He loved Pine Grove, and he worked hard to promote and preserve that singing on Lookout Mountain. He met his wife Karen there, and he returned to sing as long as he was able. He was probably at his happiest standing in the hollow square at Pine Grove leading “The Child of Grace” (p. 77t), “Calvary” (p. 300), or “Eternal Day” (p. 383), and his memorial there was bittersweet. His ashes are on the mountain at Pine Grove, and one can feel his spirit at rest there. He is acutely missed.
Lonnie Rogers was the oldest of the four citation recipients. He lived to be almost ninety-six. He was born into a family that can trace singing back as far as anyone can remember. According to Hugh McGraw, Lonnie’s father, Frank Rogers, received the second citation given by the Publishing Company, in 1969. Lonnie sang all his life. Like Jerry Enright, he met his wife at a singing. Vivian Denney Rogers was also from a family of singers. Her father, Newman, was a singing school teacher, and one of her brothers, Felton, received a citation several years ago. Lonnie and Vivian sang at home and at singings, on bus trips with Leman and Ruth Brown, and at churches and auditoriums throughout the country. Lonnie loved Sacred Harp with a passion that can only be understood by another singer. When he was unable to attend singings, others came to sing around his bed. The light on his face was reward enough. Those visits kept him going.
Lonnie sang every day as he worked and traveled. The music was a part of him. As he died, we five children gathered around his bed to sing the third verse of “New Britain” (p. 45t), his favorite. He also liked “Reynolds” (p. 225t), “Providence” (p. 298), “Fredericksburg” (p. 389), and “Fleeting Days” (p. 348b). Even more than the music, though, he loved the people. He gave me a copy of the new 1991 edition and wrote an inscription in the back. Part of it reads as follows: “As a whole, singers from Maine to California, from Chicago to Florida, show more love for each other than any group I know today. They are some of my best friends. I love them and the music.”
My father was a large man who was happy almost all the time. He loved people, and he felt that it was his mission in life to help others. He taught us to sing, and he carried us to singings until we became old enough to carry him and mother. Many singers came to “sing him home” in February 2012, and they made the day so much easier for us.
I knew George Seiler only by sight; I doubt that I sang with him more than once. But when a friend sent me a CD of the 2009 New York State Convention, I was enthralled by the prayers of the Chaplain, George Seiler. His voice was strong, his faith was evident, and his loving warmth shone through. His prayers were a mixture of joy and grief and love and gratitude. George, I soon learned, served often as a Chaplain, as Chair, as Treasurer, as Founder, as Teacher, as Greeter—whatever was needed at a singing. He had a way of seeking out new singers and making them feel at home.
George started singing Sacred Harp in 1986 in the workshop sessions at the Old Songs Festival in New York, according to his widow, Jean. He went to a singing school at the Connecticut Convention led by Hugh McGraw, and many singings and conventions followed. He was a strong, confident leader. Nathan Rees remembered that his powerful and impassioned leadership made his deep love of Sacred Harp immediately evident when he took to the floor. He often led “Greenwich” (p. 183), “Redemption” (p. 480), and “Christian’s Farewell” (p. 347).
Although George wasn’t known as a singing school teacher, he was one of the more important teachers in Sacred Harp, as Jesse P. Karlsberg noted in his presentation of George’s citation. He taught through mentorship, through his strong bass singing voice, and through his empowerment of others. He brought singing masters to the northern conventions to teach: Amanda Denson, Ginnie Ely, Joyce Walton, and David Ivey. He taught through example by being graceful, humble, and welcoming. Jesse also reflected that “George was an outsize presence at singings, and he was able to summon the class to attention with the single word ‘Friends.’” That word reflects his Quaker beliefs and his love for the music and its people. Jesse also shared George’s observation that new singers would return mostly just for the food, then eventually they would come back for the music as they gained more experience. Ultimately, though, they would return for the warmth and hospitality evident in the hollow square, thanks to people like George. He wrote to Aldo Ceresa that “the community is the most important thing.” He also sent Aldo a list of his favorite texts including those on pages 31t (“Grace all the work shall crown”), 68b (“My never-failing treasury filled with boundless stores of grace”), and 122 (“All is well”).
George left us way too soon. He is missed at singings, especially in the northeast. But Sacred Harp is stronger there partly through his efforts. And his lessons will live on in the singers who were lucky enough to cross paths with him.
These four men, each in his own way, had a strong influence on those of us who sang with them. They gave of themselves for others; they live on in our memories. We can smile as we sing 77t, 225t, 111b, and 480. We can remember those who loved these songs and we can trust that they sing now around a larger hollow square.