Newspaper Accounts of the United Sacred Harp Musical Association

This page is part of the online exhibition, The United Sacred Harp Musical Association.

As an important public event, the United Sacred Harp Musical Association generated a significant amount of press. Atlanta singer John Plunkett scoured the archives of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution for mentions of the United Convention and republished them in a volume issued to commemorate the singing’s centennial in 2003. The following selections are drawn from that publication.


Sept. 8, 1905

Singers in Convention

Three Days’ Session Begins Today at the Baptist Tabernacle

The Central Sacred Harp Association will hold a convention in the Baptist tabernacle, beginning this morning and lasting through Sunday. It will be a most interesting affair, and will, it is expected, attract numerous visitors as well as draw quite a large attendance from residents of the city.

The purpose of the association is to hold these conventions, at which all the old familiar hymns are sung by the entire attendance, or by selected singers. It is a sort of informal sacred music festival in which all the audience participates.

Branches of the association exist at many country churches and in many small towns in the vicinity of Atlanta, and the Atlanta singers have been repeated entertained by these branches. During the convention which opens this morning the debts of hospitality so incurred will be repaid.


Sept. 12, 1908

Harp Singers at Tabernacle

Col. J. S. James, of Douglassville, is Elected President

At 9:30 o’clock yesterday morning, with grips in hand, great crowds of the promoters of the old-time music began to gather at the Baptist Tabernacle.

There were delegates from all over the south. Alabama was especially represented by Miss Belle Turner, their leading treble, Professor M. F. McWhorter and Dr. White, from south Alabama.

More than one thousand delegates are expected to be at the session Saturday morning. The meeting was called to order by their president, Colonel J. S. James of Douglasville, Ga., with a fitting address for the occasion. The address of welcome was delivered by Rev. E. H. Peacock. An invitation to the convention was extended to meet at the Baptist Tabernacle next year, that being their sixth annual assembly.

This convention has grown to be a great factor in promoting the old-time shaped-note music, representing 150,000 people who still enjoy hearing the old-time songs. Their music is being revised so as to be played on all musical instruments.

At the afternoon session they went into their annual election of officers, electing Colonel J. S. James of Douglasville, Ga., president, C. J. Griggs, of Atlanta, vice president, Professor J. L. White, of Atlanta, manager, Dr. S. W. Everett, secretary, Miss Katie Favarell, assistant secretary, both of Newton County.

This convention has greatly stirred the public, and large crowds are coming to hear the old-time songs.

The convention will last Saturday and Sunday, closing with a great fare-well Sunday afternoon at 5 o’clock.


Sept. 14, 1909

Sacred Harp Singers Spend Entire Day in Song Service

Age of the Singers Range From Sixteen Years to Over Seventy—No Instruments Are Used and the Time Kept by the Large Chorus is Remarkable—Oldest Sacred Harp Song Book is Placed on Exhibition.

With the auditorium of the Baptist tabernacle comfortably filled, the second day’s session of the sixth annual convention of the Sacred Harp Musical Association was called to order at 9 o’clock, Saturday morning by the president, Joseph S. James.

The association, which uses only the songs contained in the Sacred Harp music book, numbers over a thousand of the best old time singers in Georgia and adjoining states; its membership being made up of some of the best men and women singing teachers in the state.

Without any musical instrument whatever, this enthusiastic band of music lovers literally sing all day, depending on different leaders to start the hymns; the tune of each being hummed over first without any words. As only an hour at midday is allowed for dinner, with a ten-minute’s recess at each afternoon and morning session, most of them bring their lunches, and spend the day. The leaders are changed every 15 minutes, and are men of all ages from the youngest, aged 20, to the oldest, who is a grandfather well in his 70s; the crowd each time entering into each song with the same earnestness of purpose. And it is a treat for any musician to see what perfect time they deep, some of the numbers requiring the four voices to be sung separately…

During the session Saturday Vice President Griggs exhibited the oldest Sacred Harp present at the convention, which was published in 1844, and had been in the property of the Emery family in Heard county for over 40 years…

The public is cordially invited at all meetings, and anyone fond of real old time singing should surely take advantage of this opportunity.


Sept. 9, 1911

Sacred Harp Singers Split Over Selecting Song Book

Seceders Will Meet This Morning to Organize Independent Convention

The Sacred Harp Singing convention, one of the oldest and strongest organizations of the kind in the country, split yesterday morning, apparently irrevocably, over the selection of a song book.

As a result of the division, the wing of the convention which is led by J. L. White of Atlanta… will meet in the East Atlanta Tabernacle, on Willow street, at 9:30 o’clock Saturday morning for the purpose of organizing an independent convention. They will elect officers and continue in session Saturday and Sunday.

According to Mr. White and others, the split came when President Joseph James, of Atlanta, at the meeting held in the Baptist Tabernacle Friday morning, announced the adoption of a new song book, which he has prepared and which is called “The Original Sacred Harp.”

When the convention was first organized many years ago, it adopted as the song book “The Sacred Harp,” written and published by Major B. F. White, then of Atlanta, and this book has been in constant use since that time.

Therefore, when the announcement was made by the president Friday morning that another book had been adopted, the Whites and their friends, led by J. L. White, of Atlanta, son of Major White, immediately protested.

“We were not even given a chance,” declared Mr. White, after the meeting. “This book was adopted before anybody knew anything about it, and when Jake Moore and others attempted to put in a word against it, they were not even given a hearing or recognized. The book which has been adopted and which is promulgated by President James, is a clear infringement on the original song book published by my father, and contains practically all the songs which he incorporated in his book. The adoption of a new book is an imposition upon the White family, who will be deprived of the benefit which results from the use of the book which my father published, and which has been in use for so many years.”

Mr. White and his friends then announced that they had withdrawn from the convention, and with a large body of their friends will organize a new association in the East Atlanta Tabernacle.


Sept. 5, 1912

Sacred Harp Singers May Build Tabernacle of Song

Several Hundred Are Worshipping God at Old Baptist Tabernacle by Singing the Hymns of Generations Past

Several hundred people are worshipping God at the old Baptist tabernacle by singing hymns that have come down from generations ago. They will sing for three days. By Tuesday afternoon, 1,000 or more, from eight or ten southern states, will have gathered for the session of song.

Resolutions will be introduced Thursday afternoon providing that a tabernacle of song be erected in Atlanta. It is proposed that $10,000 be spent on this building, and that it be used for the annual convention of the United Sacred Harp singers.

Officers of this association are sure that the resolutions will be adopted and that a tabernacle will be built.

When the Sacred Harp Singers met Thursday morning only a few of the many that will attend their convention had arrived. Throughout the morning they sang from a hymnal containing songs of praise by William Cowper and music by Timothy Swain [sic].

They sang without the accompaniment of an organ or a pipe to pitch the key. The leader sounded the tone and they first sang the notes and afterward the words. With each one beating time with his hand, they sang the “fa, so, la, me” prelude and followed with the words of praise…


Sept. 14, 1914

Old-Time Hymns Win Over “Ragtime” Music

Recent Meeting of Sacred Harp Musical Association Declares Big Success

“Religion just has to lift up its voice now and sing the old hymns that used to fill our fathers and mothers with the joy of Christianity. People can’t sit still in church any longer and listen to a choir giving selections from the operas. This is the day of the old-time hymns, and I believe people are going to give up ragtime for just such music.”

The meeting of the United Sacred Harp Musical Association for three days and two nights at the auditorium, with the last session Sunday afternoon, leads C. J. Griggs, vice president, to this opinion.

No convention of the association for the last ten years has been so largely attended, he says; never before has Atlanta felt so great an interest in the old hymns. At the daily meetings of the association 500 trained singers were present. The next session of the sacred singers will begin next year in the auditorium on the second Friday in September.


Sept. 11, 1925

Sacred Harp Singers’ Meeting Opens with 500 in Attendence

The first session of the twenty-first annual convention of the Sacred Harp Singers began Friday morning at 9 o’clock with chorus singing at the auditorium armory. The convention this year, with 500 visiting singers present, is expected to be the largest in the history of the organization.

In accordance with the desire to teach the children the good old fashioned religious music, a prize of $100, given by Mayor Walter A. Sims for boys, and one given by [Fulton County Commissioner] I. N. Ragsdale, of equal amount for girls, will be contested for by groups representing Georgia and Alabama, respectively. A similar contest was held last year, for girls alone, which was won by Alabama…

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