Category Archives: Read the Old Paths

Stories about people and events central to the history of our music.

Shape-Note Singing in Mississippi: A Preliminary History

While studies of Sacred Harp singing have concentrated on Georgia, Alabama, and Texas, the shape-note traditions of Mississippi have remained comparatively obscure. In 1933, George Pullen Jackson wrote, “I have not learned that there is in Mississippi any comprehensive state … Continue reading

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Building Community Harmony: Thirty-Three Years of Illinois State Sacred Harp Conventions

“I am going to bring nine people to Paxton, Illinois to organize a state convention. Saturday, May 25 is the date. St. Louis will be next.” That’s what Hugh McGraw, executive secretary of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, wrote on … Continue reading

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What I’ve Learned from My Sacred Harp Elders

My love of Sacred Harp began with my grandfather, Jim Fields, who took me to a singing school in 1958, when I was ten years old. H. N. “Bud” McGraw was the teacher. I was immediately in love with the … Continue reading

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Philadelphia, Birthplace of the Shapes and Center of Shape-Note Publishing

The original 1844 edition of The Sacred Harp bore the name and address of a Philadelphia publishing house: T. K. & P. G. Collins. Although B. F. White’s journey from Hamilton, Georgia, to Philadelphia would have been several days long, … Continue reading

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Orin Adolphus Parris: At Home Across the Shape-Note Music Spectrum

We often think of Sacred Harp and gospel music as opposites. Especially for singers from the 1991 Edition, the style can seem anathema; its relative exclusion a sign of the tunebook’s fidelity to the “old paths” invoked in its dedication. … Continue reading

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I Remember: Ruth Denson Edwards on Her Sacred Harp Childhood

Editor’s Note: In this essay, “Queen of The Sacred Harp,” Ruth Denson Edwards shares memories of her musical childhood home. Just about every day somewhere in the world Sacred Harp singers find joy and spiritual fulfillment singing songs written by … Continue reading

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The Twentieth Century Looks at William Billings

Editor’s Note: When Raymond C. Hamrick returned to Sacred Harp singing after World War II he was immediately drawn to the music of the eighteenth-century New England composer, William Billings. Billings also piqued Hamrick’s scholarly curiosity as this article—first published … Continue reading

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The Curious History of Shape-Notes

Editor’s Note: In this essay, first published in The Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp News 2, no. 4 (September 20, 1965), Hamrick places shape-notes in the context of American vocal music history, from their advent in the colonial era through the twentieth … Continue reading

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Sojourn in the South: Billings Among the Shape-Noters

Editor’s Note: Raymond C. Hamrick contributed this article to a 1996 special issue of the Quarterly Journal of Music Teaching and Learning 7, no. 1, devoted to eighteenth-century New England composer William Billings. In an April 2014 interview, Hamrick recalled … Continue reading

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“My Interest Was in the Background of the Music”:
Raymond C. Hamrick and Alan Lomax in Conversation

Editor’s Note: Alan Lomax interviewed Raymond C. Hamrick during a break in 1982 June memorial singing at Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Bremen, Georgia. An outspoken and prolific folklorist, Lomax attended the convention with a large crew to record … Continue reading

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