9. Video Resources


"Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp" by Matt and Erica Hinton, Standard One-Disc and Special Two-Disc Editions The Hintons, filmakers and Sacred Harp singers from Atlanta, Georgia, produced a feature-length documentary film and DVD, released in 2006, on the history, music, and traditions of Sacred Harp singing. As described in detail on the movie's outstanding Web site, over the course of seven years, the Hintons painstakingly amassed hundreds of hours of digital video footage at traditional Sacred Harp singings (from the Denson/1991 book) in Georgia and Alabama and interviewed the most prominent traditional Sacred Harp singers and composers."Awake, My Soul" includes historical material illustrated by rare archival images, interviews with singers who share their often moving personal histories, and the music itself. Long-time Sacred Harp singer and historian Buell Cobb states: "I found it mesmerizing to see, in the context of a film interview, people I've known for years -- and hear them tell things about their background, their introduction to Sacred Harp, etc., that I had never known. The deft weaving together of so many strands of story, of testimony, of old photographs, of roving camera, of stirring music, makes for a very compelling hour and a quarter." The film is narrated by Jim Lauderdale, edited by Jennifer Brooks, researched and co-written by John Plunkett, and produced by Mac Powell and Tai Anderson. Subtitles accompany most of the interviews to enhance comprehension. The film has been shown at singing conventions and on many public television stations around the nation with very positive feedback. In 2007 the Hintons released a two-DVD Special Edition which contains the original documentary (found on disc 1 but not listed in the Contents printed on the box), plus deleted scenes, additional interview footages from Sacred Harp singers commenting on a variety of subjects (e.g. memories, community, the music, history, faith, etc.), over two hours of Sacred Harp singing (62 songs) from 1998-2006, and other features. Sacred Harp singers will be amply rewarded for ordering the Special rather than the Standard Edition. The Standard Edition (SHR-DVD001 and Special Edition (SHR-DVD002) are available for $20.00 and $27.00, respectively, plus shipping when ordered online at the Web site. Educational purchases and licenses are also available. The Web site also has interesting material and photographs concerning Sacred Harp singing, as well as a streaming-audio trailer of as-good-as-it-gets Sacred Harp singing.

"Sweet Is the Day: A Sacred Harp Family Portrait." This outstanding video with accompanying substantial guide booklet was issued in 2001 by the Alabama Folklife Association and is a 'must-have' for those seeking to understand the Southern Sacred Harp tradition. In the Association's words: "This video tells the story of the Woottens, one of the singing families who have helped Sacred Harp music survive and flourish for more than 150 years. Filmmakers Erin Kellen and Jim Carnes [who have sung Sacred Harp with traditional singers for decades in Alabama] intertwine in "Sweet is the Day" scenes of family gatherings, singing conventions, and farm life on Alabama's Sand Mountain with family recollections and more than a dozen songs from the revered shape-note tradition. The songs -- sung with technical mastery, emotional power and a breath-taking blend of voices -- are central to "Sweet Is the Day." As this film reveals, Sacred Harp singing has always been more than music. For inheritors like the Woottens, the tradition is a life-shaping force. The enclosed 44-page study guide, by [historian and Sacred Harp singer] John Bealle, further explains the history of Sacred Harp singing, discusses the many traditions attached to it such as singing schools and "dinner on the grounds" and looks beyond Sand Mountain to the large and enthusiastic community of Sacred Harp singers across the nation." The Alabama Folklife Web site for this video contains a link for downloading the entire guide booklet in PDF format, and also has links to screen shots from the video. The price is $20.00 for one video in VHS or DVD format, plus $2.50 postage and handling regardless of the number ordered. Order from, and make checks payable to, the Alabama Folklife Association, c/o Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, 410 N. Hull St., Montgomery, AL 36104, phone 334-242-3601. Credit card and online orders are now possible.

Web site for videostreaming "Sweet Is the Day". The outstanding Folkstreams.net Web site has been developed by Tom and Mimi Davenport with NEH support to videostream over the Internet films about American traditional culture. The Web pages for "Sweet Is the Day" Web site have the complete guide booklet for the video (in HTML rather than PDF format) as well as a teacher's guide for using this video in grades 7-8 social studies classes.

"The Sacred Harp of Hoboken" produced and directed by Will Payne. This inspiring and highly recommended 10-minute video was made several years ago at the annual Lee family Sacred Harp singing in Hoboken, GA. The video focuses on David Lee and on the meaning of Sacred Harp singing for him, his family, and others of the Hoboken area. It is a professional Emmy-award winning video that, through beautiful images, strong singing from the Cooper Sacred Harp by hundreds of singers, and the profound yet plain spoken comments of David Lee, captures the essence of Sacred Harp. In 2009 the video was put on YouTube, but at the time of this writing (2014) the video is not available because the account of the uploader had been closed. Hopefully it will reappear somewhere sometime.

Video recordings produced by or associated with the Joe Beasley Memorial Foundation. These recordings are now available from the Foundation's online store. Audio CDs are listed in chapter 5. (More on the Foundation in chapter 15 of this guide.)

For more information about these videos, contact the Joe Beasley Memorial Foundation, Inc., 431 Woodland Road, Bessemer, AL 35020 (mail) or joebeasleymemorialfoundation@gmail.com (e-mail).

YouTube.com and Vimeo.com videos of shape-note singings. The fastest growing area of Sacred Harp recording (audio and video) is on YouTube and Vimeo, where new videos of shape-note singing are added almost weekly. The videos, which are too numerous to list here, are generally under 10 minutes in length and are of amateur quality (with a few exceptions). Many depict the singing of only one song. To find these videos, one should search YouTube and Vimeo using terms such as "Sacred Harp," "shape-note singing," "Christian Harmony," etc. Search using the main search window and also click on "Browse Channels" and use the Search Channels window also.

Sacred Harp Memories' Albums compiled by Ron Ryan. Texas Sacred Harp Singer Ron Ryan has created a rapidly growing online repository of historical materials generally not found elsewhere -- documents, audio, and video -- related to Sacred Harp singing (both Denson and Cooper books, but mostly Denson). The purpose is to preserve for posterity materials and memorabilia that were produced mainly by singers themselves and that might be eventually lost otherwise. As of this writing, content other than videos are temporarily offline and may return as early as February 2014, but the videos of this collection -- 689 videos in 68 albums -- are found on Vimeo. The videos currently on this site are generally of large singing conventions in the 1980s and 1990s.

Sacred Harp videos from the Alan Lomax Archives. Currently there are 14 short videos of Sacred Harp singing in 1982 posted on YouTube by the Association for Cultural Equity, which maintains the vast archives of folklorist Alan Lomax. The videos were professionally made with multiple cameras for the PBS series "American Patchwork." There are nine from the 1982 Holly Spring (GA) singing, plus several additional gems, such as a porch singing by the Wootten of Ider, AL, and a heartwarming video of Lonnie and Vivian Rogers. An additional longer video, Alan Lomax on the Sacred Harp (12 minutes) is remarkable and well worth watching: Lomax discussing the future of the Sacred Harp movement in the churchyard with Phil Summerlin and Buell Cobb after the singing finished. He was speaking off-the-cuff, yet his articulate thoughts were profound and prescient in predicting the future enlargement of interest in Sacred Harp music. An additional video made in 1983 features The Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers led by Dewey Williams singing "Give Me Just a Little More Time."

"Amazing Grace: The Story of William "Singing Billy" Walker" This excellent albeit brief online video (9:16 minutes) about arguably South Carolina's (and the South's) most influential musician, William Walker, composer, arranger, and compiler of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion and The Christian Harmony. It was produced by the South Carolina Hall of Fame, which has an exhibit on Walker, and South Carolina ETV. The video features interviews with hymnologist Dr. Harry Eskew, Dr. Doyle Boggs of Wofford College, Mac Campbell who is the great great great grandson of Walker, and Prof. Robert T. Kelley of Lander University. It is also found on YouTube.

Professional videotapes and audio recordings of the annual Antioch Baptist Church singings. One of the best one-day southern Sacred Harp singings, the Wootten family singing in Ider, AL, has been or was recorded annually from 1996 through at least 2001 on a series of professionally produced videotapes commissioned by the Woottens. Two videocameras and special microphones were used, and each entire singing, including spoken words by the singers, was recorded. Rod Willard wrote after receiving his 1996 tapes: "Those who have never attended a singing in its native habitat can now appreciate why those making the pilgrimage South are so enthused as they return home. And you will see the Lee [family of Georgia] walking time, the Woottens' 4/4 beat, two rows of altos overpowering ten rows of tenors...." To inquire about availability, contact Wayne Murphree Enterprises, Inc., 25735 Highway 71, Flat Rock, AL, 35966, phone 256-632-2427, e-mail info@wmeiphoto.com.

"Hoboken in Seattle," Pacific Northwest Sacred Harp Convention, Feb. 21, 1998. David and Clarke Lee and other members of the Lee family of Hoboken, Georgia, conducted a singing school as part of the 1998 Pacific Northwest in Seattle. They described their spiritual approach to Sacred Harp singing from the Cooper Edition and their unique styles of Sacred Harp singing and leading (including "walking time") which developed in isolation from other Sacred Harp singers. The video was made by the Seattle singers and professionally edited by Wayne Murphree. Inquire about availability at Wayne Murphree Enterprises, Inc., 25735 Alabama Highway 71, Flat Rock, AL 35966, phone 256-632-2427, e-mail info@wmeiphoto.com.

Singing School taught by Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard, 1997, Chicago. The Sheppards, life-long traditional singers and Sacred Harp masters from Glencoe, Alabama taught a two-day singing school which was videotaped by Gary Gronau of St. Louis on amateur equipment. A 54-minute video was prepared. According to Mr. Gronau, "This was not an ordinary singing school of the rudiments; rather it was more of a master class in technique, style, and graces of effective leading (including footwork!), combined with a living history lesson and "family stories" of an earlier time, of Tom Denson, A.M. Cagle ..." To order a copy by mail, send a check, payable to Wings of Song, for $10.00 per copy to Gary Gronau, 6240 Rosebury, St. Louis, MO 63105.

"Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old," written, directed, and produced by Alan Lomax. The late eminent folklorist Alan Lomax produced a 60 minute video for the "American Patchwork" series, shown in 1990 on PBS television featuring oldsters responsible for preserving six different genres of American traditional music. There is an 8.3-minute segment featuring the all-day Sacred Harp singing at the Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Bremen, GA, recording in 1982. Lomax admiringly refers to Sacred Harp singing as "country counterpoint" and "backwoods Bach," and is clearly impressed by the singers, many of whom are elderly. The video shows lively traditional Georgia/Alabama style singing from the Denson book, but the most noteworthy moments are interviews with legendary singers Chester and Mac Wootten and a scene from a front-porch singing. ISBN 1-884691-75-7. Available on DVD from several online dealers, for example Media-Generation.net.

Web site for video streaming of "Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old." This documentary can be viewed for free by videostreaming over the Internet from the outstanding Folkstreams.net Web site.

"Amazing Grace with Bill Moyers". A 90-min special program first shown on PBS television stations in October 1990 and occasionally repeated on PBS stations. The program describes the history of the hymn Amazing Grace, the life of its author John Newton, the singing of the hymn in its many versions by soloists and groups having a wide variety of styles, and the meaning of the words to a variety of people. One segment features white Sacred Harp singers, led by Hugh McGraw, singing the hymn at the regular June singing at the Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Bremen, GA, in 1989. The social aspects of the singing and the meaning of the tradition to Southern singers are also described. Another segment, longer and very interesting, features black Wiregrass Sacred Harp singers in the area of Ozark, AL, led by 91-year-old Dewey Williams. DVDs can be purchased from several sources, one of which is Shop PBS.

"A Soul Reviving Feast" online video by Sarah Simonson, Melanie Young, and Miles Laseter of the University of Mississippi Southern Studies Documentary Fieldwork class. This 17-minute outstanding and informative video in HD format describes the Southern custom of Dinner on the Ground(s) in three different contexts in Mississippi -- all-day Sacred Harp or gospel singings (described by David Warren Steel), Homecoming and Decoration Day at churches and their cemeteries (described by Joanne Patrick Lewis of Pelahatchie), and the Natchez National Cemetery (described by Darrell White). Dr. Steel is the overall emcee of the video. There are scenes from local Sacred Harp singings in Mississippi and Alabama. Most memorable are the mouth-watering descriptions and images of many of the Southern-style dishes commonly found at these dinners.

Videotapes from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. A large number of color videotapes about most aspects of Southern culture are listed on the Web site for the Southern Culture Catalog of the Center at the University of Mississippi. Order from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi, Hill Hall, Room 309, University, MS 38677. Phone 800-390-3527. In the recent past there were listed in the Catalog three videotapes dealing with shape-note music, but they are no longer listed, and their current availability is not certain:


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