Paine Denson (wearing a bow tie, to the right of the leader) sings in the bass section
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Paine Denson (wearing a bow tie, to the right of the leader) sings in the bass section


In the region of West Georgia, a wealth of traditional sacred and gospel music can be found – Sacred Harp singing thrives at churches like Holly Springs Baptist thanks to the efforts of Bremen resident Hugh McGraw; the United Shape Note Singers travel from church to church on most Sundays

Portrait of B.F. White, 1800-1879

Four Shape Songbooks and the Sacred Harp

Beginning in the mid 19th century, a wide variety of songbooks were published in and around the West Georgia region.  These books, from the Sacred Harp to the seven-shape, soft-cover convention songbooks, influenced the way singers in the area performed their music, and they became part of the traditions carried

The "Christian Harmony": Hymn and Psalm Tunes, odes and Anthems – William Walker’s 7-shape book, bookcover

Seven Shape Songbooks

With the introduction of the Jesse Aiken’s Christian Minstrel in 1846, a seven-shape, European-influenced system of notation gained popularity in the country.  This book assigned a distinct shape to each note of the scale – doe, ray, mee, faw, sol, law, and see.  Aiken claimed that his notation was superior

A.J. Showalter’s "Class Choir and Congregation" in an oblong format, Bookcover

A.J. Showalter Comes to Dalton

A.J. Showalter, a native of Cherry Grove, Virginia, was from the same musical family as Joseph Funk and Aldine Kieffer and began his career as a singing school teacher. He published several songbooks through the Ruebush-Kieffer company before being sent to Dalton, Georgia for the purpose of starting a branch

"Morning Light" Songbook, Cover

Stamps-Baxter, Vaughan and Gospel Quartets

Other companies like the Stamps-Baxter Publishing Company and the James D. Vaughan Publishing Company would follow the example of Showalter, putting out impressive numbers of soft-cover songbooks in the early years of the 20th century.  With the rise of radio, these companies even began to hire gospel quartets in different

The Sacred Harp Tradition

As the name implies, Sacred Harp singers in West Georgia use only one songbook for their singings – the Sacred Harp.  Based on the James, and later Denson, editions of the book, the maroon-covered 1991 revision led by Hugh McGraw is the edition most seen at singings.  McGraw has been

Interview: Hugh McGraw

1932, "Wondrous Cross" handwritten notations by Paine Denson, Handwritten Notations

Paine Denson and the Sacred Harp

After purchasing the rights to the book from Joseph James, brothers Seaborn and T.J. Denson began revising his 1911 edition of the Sacred Harp.  Though both died before the work was done, T.J.’s son, Paine, shepherded the project to completion in 1936.  The Denson revision, published until 1987, remained popular

1956, Image of the Chattahoochee Sacred Harp Convention held at the State University of West Georgia

The Chattahoochee Musical Convention

The lasting popularity of the Sacred Harp can partly be attributed to the strong support of singing conventions like the Chattahoochee Musical Convention.  The group was established by B.F. White, and in 1904, the members pledged to use no other book but the Sacred Harp for their singings.  This image

1980, Hugh McGraw at the National Singing

The First National Sacred Harp Sing, 1980

In June 1980, Sacred Harpers traveled to Birmingham, Alabama for four days of fellowship and singing at the First National Sacred Harp Sing at Samford University.  As secretary of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, Hugh McGraw was instrumental in organizing the event.  The convention is still in existence today and