It was a warm, sunny afternoon in early summer 2009. Sitting in the garden with my brand new copy of The Sacred Harp I was following the advice in the rudiments to open the book at random and say the shapes to practice the rhythm. My book fell open at page 562, Tom McGraw’s “Infinite Delight.” I found the song delightful, and my love for the music of this family with such strong ties to Sacred Harp singing was born. Keen to know more in those days before the publication of David Warren Steel’s The Makers of The Sacred Harp I wrote to Hugh McGraw, receiving an encouraging note from him and Charlene Wallace in reply. So began my on-going research into the McGraw family history. As my work progressed, I became increasingly interested in some lesser known members of the McGraw family in particular Tom McGraw’s eldest brother Lee Andrew “L. A.” McGraw, composer of “New Bethel” (p. 395 in The Sacred Harp). Though less well known than that of his younger brothers Tom and Henry Newton “Bud” McGraw, the story of Lee and his family can teach us something about the part that Sacred Harp singing played in the lives of the individuals who collectively make up the tale of our tradition’s history.
Thursday October 7, 1858, was the most significant date in the history of the pre-singing generation of McGraws. On that day in Coweta County, Georgia, Ephraim Wesley McGraw, aged twenty-four, married twenty-five-year-old Jemima Adeline Kilgore. On the same day, in the same county, Thomas Neal Entrekin, aged eighteen, was married to twenty-five-year-old Harriett Henrietta Cannon by a different Justice of the Peace.
Both men were farmers with young families at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Ephraim and Jemima’s eldest child, Roland Jackson McGraw, born on July 5, 1859, was almost two, and the Entrekins’ eldest barely one. Both fathers enlisted to serve in the Confederate States Army and both survived the war. Thomas Neal was furloughed home unfit for further service in 1863 after contracting fever in Pennsylvania and being hospitalized in Virginia. He remained chronically sick with Bright’s disease for the rest of his life. Roland’s wife Harriett was a strong willed lady. Her family remembered that whatever she was doing she was the boss. She took on much of the responsibility for running their small homestead as well as bringing up their six children. She was the role model for their third child and eldest daughter Augusta Ann Savannah Entrekin, born on July 20, 1864.
On September 26, 1879 in Carroll County, Georgia, Roland Jackson McGraw married Augusta Ann Savannah Entrekin in a ceremony conducted by Minister J. M. D. Stallings. Roland was twenty-one and Augusta fifteen.
Both Roland and Augusta were avid Sacred Harp singers. The Entrekins in particular were a prominent singing family. Augusta’s eldest brother George and younger brother Jones became leading singers of their generation.
Augusta too became a dedicated Sacred Harp singer. She sang treble, the first in a long line of McGraw treble singers that has continued to this day. She knew the whole book from memory and sat on the treble front bench, often wearing a white dress. A family story tells that Sacred Harp composer Marcus (“A. M.”) Cagle went to a singing and noticed that Augusta went the whole morning without once opening her book. Marcus sat next to Augusta in the treble section after lunch to see what she was doing. He was astonished to watch her singing—her book still closed—without missing a single note or word.
Roland and Augusta’s first child, George, died in infancy. He lies in an unmarked grave in the cemetery at Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church in Haralson County, Georgia, not far from the grave of Silas Mercer Brown. [See Rebecca Over’s 2013 article “In Search of Silas Mercer Brown” for more information.—Ed.]
Their second child, Lee Andrew McGraw, was born on March 4, 1882 in Bremen, Haralson County. At seven, Lee, likely joined his younger brother Henry Newton and sisters Mattie Mae and Roxie in travelling with their parents to the August 1889 session of the Chattahoochee Convention, held at Standing Rock Church in Coweta County. Roland, then thirty and Augusta, twenty-four, joined the convention that year and are listed in the Membership Book as “McGraw R. J.” and “Augusta Entrekin (Mrs R. J.).” Neither Roland nor Augusta led music at the Chattahoochee Convention that year. I have found no mentions at all of Roland as a leader at Sacred Harp singings.
In her “Introduction and History” prefacing the 1971 edition of the Original Sacred Harp, Ruth Denson Edwards notes that Lee’s brothers Henry Newton (“Bud”) and Thomas Buford (“Tom”) McGraw were both taught by famed Sacred Harp singing school teacher Thomas Jackson Denson. Lee and the other McGraw siblings would probably have attended the same singing schools. [For more on Denson’s impact on Sacred Harp singing, see “Uncle Tom Denson’s Last Lesson” and “Letters of Condolence after the Death of Thomas Jackson Denson,” both published in the Newsletter in 2013.—Ed.]
At the time of the 1900 census, Roland and Augusta were living in the Turkey Creek District of Carroll County—the area of present day Mount Zion. Eighteen-year-old Lee lived with them and worked as a laborer on their rented farm. The family remained in Georgia until 1902 when Roland began a series of travels with Augusta and their eleven children, moving between Georgia and Alabama in search of better land for farming. They headed first for Cullman County, Alabama, a hotbed of Sacred Harp singing where they remained for about a year.
It was there that Lee married Louisa Idenia (“Lou”) Nix. Lou was born in Carroll County, Georgia, on October 12, 1881, but had lived in Cullman County since at least 1900. Her family had evidently made the same journey as Roland and Augusta’s when the Nix family moved to Cullman County. Lee and Lou married in Jones Chapel, Cullman County, on Christmas Day in 1902. He was twenty and Lou twenty-one.
The young couple soon traveled with Roland and Augusta to Lauderdale County in the northwest corner of Alabama and decided to settle there, where the land remains good for farming to this day. Roland died at the early age of fifty on June 30, 1910, and was buried in Anderson Cemetery.
Lee was an active singer and leader by the early 1900s. Earl Thurman’s history of the Chattahoochee Convention tells us that Lee was a “leading promoter” of the Tennessee River Convention, which was organized at Shelter Primitive Baptist Church, Anderson, Alabama in 1907.1 Lee was twenty-five in that year.
In the 1910 census, Lee was recorded as a “general farmer” on rented land in Lauderdale County with Lou working on the farm as well as raising two young children, Hulon and Aubrey. Lee and Lou showed their high regard for the Denson family by giving their eldest son Hulon the middle name Denson.
Lee was a dedicated and successful farmer. By 1920, at the age of thirty-eight, he and his family were farming land that he owned. Hulon and Aubrey worked on the farm, seven-year-old son Curtis attended school and youngest son Edgar Leon was two years old. Lee himself was the census enumerator for Mitchell Beat No. 1 in Lauderdale County and recorded his own family as living on County Line Road, which lies east of and runs parallel to part of Highway 207 just north of Mitchell Cemetery.
It is not possible to pinpoint exactly where on County Line Road Lee’s home was, but his enumeration duties would have taken him the entire length of it. On March 20, 2013 I drove the whole of it myself, enjoying being able to follow and photograph the same route that Lee had traveled all those years before.
Lee was census enumerator again in 1930, by which time he and Lou’s last child, Mildred Magdalene, was six years old. His handwriting is shown on this extract from the census form. Twelve-year-old Edgar Leon was attending school.
Lee served as a member of the Music Committee for the 1936 edition of our songbook together with younger brothers Bud and Tom. He contributed two songs, both major fuging tunes dated 1935, to that edition. “Entrekin,” named for Augusta’s family (then on p. 284 in Original Sacred Harp: Denson Revision), was removed in 1991. Lee’s “New Bethel” (p. 395) remains in our current 1991 edition of The Sacred Harp.
In 1940, Lee and his family were still in Mitchell but now living on Middle Road. He and Lou lived with their daughter Mildred, son Curtis and daughter-in-law Lila. Lee owned the farm, valued at $5,000. By then, his son Aubrey had married his wife, Annie, and had a son named James Earl. Aubrey rented his farm at a cost of $8 per month. It is possible that Aubrey rented this portion of land from his father. Lee, recorded in the census as both a farmer and a cotton-ginner, no longer undertook enumeration duties.
The next record of where Lee may have been living is in 1944, when he attended the Sacred Harp Centennial Celebration, which ran from Monday, September 18, to Sunday, September 24, in Double Springs, Winston County, Alabama. The minutes from the celebration contain conflicting information. When Lee led music on the Sunday he was recorded in the body of the minutes as “L. A. McGraw, Anderson, Ala.,” but in the roll of “Visiting Singers And Others Who Attended,” he is listed as “McGraw, L. A., Minor Hill, Tennessee.” Minor Hill is north of Anderson on Highway 207 with its city limit on the Tennessee state line.
Lee and his brothers Bud and Tom would often lead each other’s songs at singings. At the Centennial Celebration, he chose to sing Bud’s “Sabbath Morning” (p. 283), Tom’s “Georgia” (p. 197) and his own song “Entrekin” (then on p. 284).
In 1952 Earl Thurman refers to “Lee A. McGraw, Minor Hill, Tennessee” but notes that he was “not personally acquainted” with him. Genealogist Darrell McGraw also mentions Lee living in Minor Hill, telling us that he “worked as a farmer, carpenter, brick mason, Clerk of the Anderson Gin Company, sub rural mail carrier, then rural mail carrier” and that adds that he was a member of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, located on the corner of Highways 207 and 64.2
Powell, too small even to appear on my detailed atlas of Alabama, lies on Highway 64 between Bethel Baptist Church at the corner of the 207 and the community of Grassy further along the highway driving west. The only way to know you are there is by the sign at the Powell Church of Christ. On March 19, 2013, while visiting Roland Jackson’s grave at Anderson Cemetery, I met a man in search of another grave. We got talking and when I said who I was looking for he told me that when he was a small child his family were neighbors of Lee. I would guess from the man’s age that this may have been some time in the early 1950s. He told me that Lee grew corn and was a quiet man—“like most folks it took a lot to get anything out of him”—but when they saw him loading up his car he often said he and his family were going to a singing. He knew that Lee sang regularly in the local churches in and around Anderson and also in Tennessee. He told me that at that time, Lee and his family lived in a community called Powell. Their house had burned down since then and he could not remember the exact location, but he described where Powell was in sufficient detail that I was able to find it later that afternoon.
After spending a while taking pictures I drove on to take a look at Grassy, feeling truly grateful for my chance encounter with that man at the cemetery. Thanks to him I was almost certainly driving on a road along which Lee and his family must have traveled many times between their home and all those singings.
The earliest record I have found of Lee as a leader is at the Tennessee River Convention at Goodhope Schoolhouse (state not recorded) in 1924, by which time he was clearly a highly respected singer and leader at the age of forty-two. At this the Eighteenth Annual Session, which began on the Friday before the second Sunday in August, he was elected vice-president and member of the arranging committee. He sang for twenty-five minutes during the Memorial Lesson, which he conducted together with W. S. Hand, who also sang for twenty-five minutes. He remained a member and officer of this convention, which held sessions at various churches in the Tennessee River areas of Alabama and Tennessee, throughout the rest of his life. He served as Chairman in 1956, the year before he died.
Lee sang mostly in northwest Alabama, parts of Tennessee adjoining Alabama, and in the area of Alabama around Cullman County. In Tennessee he sang regularly at Odem’s Chapel in St. Joseph and was often an officer there. This was a very active area for singing. In 1950 one could have sung at the Tennessee River Convention, held that year at Anderson Creek Church, from Friday, August 11, through Sunday, August 13, followed by a whole week of singing at Odem’s Chapel from Monday, August 14, through Sunday, August 20. Lee was vice chairman at Tennessee River that year and sang at Odem’s Chapel.
In some years, Lee and family also traveled to Carroll County, Georgia, to sing at the Mount Zion Memorial Convention, where he served as chairman in 1926, vice-chairman in 1929, and member of the Memorial Committee in 1932. A particularly notable year at Mount Zion was 1934. On Saturday morning, July 21, one day after celebrating her seventieth birthday, Augusta led music. This is the only record we have of her as a leader. The minutes appeared in a local newspaper, from which we know that Lee led three songs, but there is also a manuscript record in the hand of secretary Faris F. Tant.
Augusta died on September 11,1940 and rests with some of her grandchildren in the cemetery at Mount Zion United Methodist Church, home of the Mount Zion Memorial Singing.
Lee led music at Mount Zion again in 1935, 1941 (Leon also sang there that year), and 1946. When he sang at the 1949 session his son Aubrey and nephew Albert Jackson McGraw also led music there.
The last record of Lee leading music at Mount Zion is at the sixty-third session in July, 1955. Lou had passed away earlier that year on March 11, at the age of seventy-three, after being at least a couple of years of illness. I have found no mention of Lou McGraw leading music but she was certainly a lover of Sacred Harp. Hugh McGraw remembers traveling with the Georgia McGraws to sing in Alabama and Tennessee a year or two before she died. They stayed at Lee’s home and sang for Lou, who was sick and unable to leave her bed. At the time of her death she and Lee had been married for a little over fifty-two years.
Lee and Lou had six children. Eldest son Hulon Denson McGraw (1903–1970) enumerated “Anderson Village” for the 1930 census and served as postmaster of Anderson Post Office from June 15, 1945, until his death in 1970. He is buried at Mitchell Cemetery. Second son Aubrey Lee McGraw (1906–1972) appears to have sung for at least part of his life. I have found no evidence of their third child Curtis Eugene McGraw (1912–1993) being involved with Sacred Harp. Fourth child Cecil Clay McGraw (1914–1915) died in infancy and was buried near Roland in Anderson Cemetery. Fifth child Edgar Leon McGraw (1917–1987) shared his father’s love of the land. He was a specialist in vocational agriculture at Auburn University and composed “Odem” (p. 295), a major plain tune named for his father’s good friend Lonnie Odem. He is buried at Auburn Memorial Park. Sixth child Mildred Magdalene Middlebrooks (1923–2004) held stock in the Sacred Harp Publishing Company.
Mildred and her husband Ronald Middlebrooks are buried at Bethel Baptist Church. Aubrey Lee and his wife Annie also rest there with their son James Earl McGraw.
It was at Bethel Baptist Church, on June 30, 1956, that Lee, now seventy-four, married his second wife, seventy-two-year-old Ida Bertha Hardman. Daughter of Civil War soldier Francis Marion Nix and his second wife Nancy Elizabeth Duke, Ida was born In Carroll County, Georgia, on January 16, 1884. She was a half sister of Lou’s father, David Orean Nix, and hence “half aunt” of Lou. It was her branch of the Nix family that were keen singers, particularly her oldest brother Welcome Duke Nix and her youngest brother Robert Newton (“Newt”) Nix.
Ida was also a cousin of composer Alfred Marcus Cagle. Ida’s mother, Nancy Elizabeth Duke Nix, was an older sister of Samaria Mamie Duke who married Jesse Martin Cagle. Samaria and Jesse were the parents of Alfred Marcus.
In January, 1912, in Cullman County, Alabama, Ida married Henry Thompson Hudson. Although she was probably an avid singer I have found no mention of her leading music as a Hudson. She may have been too busy bringing up their seven children. I have not found Henry mentioned either but his younger brother Marcus appears in minutes as a leader.
Henry died in 1938 and in the 1940 census Ida (then fifty-six) is recorded living with children Duke (twenty-nine), Edward (twenty) and twins Aubrey and Audrey (both eighteen) on a farm in Jones Chapel, Cullman County, Alabama, for which the family paid rent of $4 per month. In 1947 Ida married singer William Henry (“Uncle Bill”) Hardman, whom she had met at a singing. She went to live with him in Atlanta, where they are recorded in the 1948 City Directory living at 464 Ashby Grove SW. Uncle Bill Hardman was a dedicated Sacred Harp singer, frequently traveling to singings in Alabama and Tennessee as well as parts of Georgia. He was a regular supporter of the Mount Zion Memorial Singing, where he sang at various sessions between 1932 and 1948.
Ida led music and attended some of the same singings as Lee. After not much longer than two years of marriage, Uncle Bill died, at the age of eighty-two, two days before Christmas of 1949. By this time he and Ida were living at 211 Arnold Street West in Cullman, Alabama, but he was buried with his first wife Mamie at Westview Cemetery in Atlanta. After her marriage to Lee, Ida began to lead much more often at singings. It seems that he inspired and encouraged her to do so. Lee retired from farming and went to live with Ida at her home in Cullman. The final record I found of Lee as a leader was at the New Hope (Joe Myers) Singing in Alabama at the end of October, 1956. Sadly he and Ida had been married for less than a year when Lee Andrew McGraw died in Cullman on Ida’s seventy-third birthday, January 16, 1957. He was buried with Lou at Mitchell Cemetery on Highway 207 north of Anderson. In August, 2013, the field next to the cemetery was, appropriately, full of ripening corn.
After Lee’s death, Ida continued to lead music and she is listed as a “contributor” to 1960 edition of Original Sacred Harp on the songbook’s title page.
Her inclusion may indicate that she gave the book’s music committee a copy of Lee’s song, “Liberty Grove,” (then on p. 516) which first appeared in that edition dated 1959 (two years after it’s composer’s death). This major fuging tune was removed from The Sacred Harp in 1991.
Ida was particularly active as a leader in 1961. During that year she is recorded leading at nineteen singings in various parts of Alabama. At the sixteen singings that recorded song numbers, she led twenty-six different songs. She sang “Wondrous Love” (p. 159) and “Sharon” (p. 212) three times and led four songs twice (“Stratfield,” p. 142; “Georgia,” p. 197; “Calvary,” p. 300”; and “Heavenly Dove,” p. 371). She led an additional twenty songs just a single time that year.
On Friday March 15, 2013, I visited New Hope No. 1 Cemetery opposite New Hope Church at Jones Chapel in Cullman County, Alabama, in search of the grave of David Orean Nix, father of Lou McGraw. After finding the small flat marker relatively easily I was looking around the cemetery when two custodians of the cemetery arrived. When I mentioned the names Nix and McGraw one of the men identified himself as a descendant of Henry Hudson.
At this time I knew nothing of Ida’s husbands before Lee, though I was quite familiar with the seventeenth-century English sea explorer! Imagine my surprise and delight then, when the man showed me Henry T. Hudson’s grave and explained that Ida B. Hudson, his wife, was none other than “our” Ida McGraw.
He told me that when he was a very small child he had known Lee and Ida. Though he could remember very little about them he could recall that all the family greatly respected “Mr. McGraw” and that Ida had really loved him. The man said that he was not a singer and had never been to the annual singing at New Hope (neither had the other man with him) but as a child he had been aware that both Lee and Ida loved Sacred Harp. Were it not for that chance meeting I would never have known that Ida was buried at this cemetery or that Henry Hudson had been her first husband.
Ida lived in the house that she had shared with Lee in Cullman until she died. In the back of the Minutes of Carroll, Cobb, Coweta, Douglas, Fulton, Haralson, Heard, Paulding, and Polk Counties, Georgia for 1963, she was listed as “McGraw, Mrs Ida, 211 Arnold St. W, Cullman, Alabama.” Buell Cobb told me that this would have been an easily walkable distance from where Ruth Denson Edwards lived at the time.
Ida passed away in Cullman on November 29, 1964, at the age of eighty. I feel pleased to have made the acquaintance of this remarkable lady in some small way and only regret that I have been unable to find a photograph of her. Through tracing the footsteps of Lee Andrew McGraw, and encountering the stories of other devoted Sacred Harp singers such as Ida McGraw along the way, I feel as though I have got to know these people—though separated from them by time and the veil of death. The details of their lives, and the connections among them, help us to appreciate the way in which singing from The Sacred Harp draws us all into this very special world that we understand as a community and as a family.
My heartfelt gratitude and thanks go to Hugh McGraw, Charlene Wallace, Charles Woods, Earlis McGraw, Judy Henry and all the present day McGraw family singers for their continuing generosity and help. I also thank genealogist Darrell McGraw, whose website inspired me to look into the McGraw and other family histories, and to all others who assisted in any way.
- See Earl Thurman, “The Chattahoochee Musical Convention, 1852–1952,” in The Chattahoochee Musical Convention, 1852–2002: A Sacred Harp Historical Sourcebook, ed. Kiri Miller (Bremen, GA: The Sacred Harp Museum, 2002), 29–120. [↩]
- Darrell McGraw, “Chambers Family Heritage,” accessed April 19, 2014, http://www.chambersheritage.com/pafg558.htm. [↩]