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Sacred Harp

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

1982, National Endowment for the Arts award to Hugh McGraw

NEA Award for Hugh McGraw, 1982

For his tireless efforts in keeping the traditions of Sacred Harp singing strong, the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Hugh McGraw in its first class of Nation Heritage Fellows. The 1982 class also included musicians Bessie Smith, Bill Monroe, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Dewey Balfa.   Hugh McGraw

Hugh McGraw Teaches a Singing School

1990, Gathering in Birmingham, Alabama singing the Proposed revisions, Image

1990 Revision Singing

The latest edition of the Sacred Harp was published in 1991, but before being sent to press, a group of Sacred Harpers – including those who had written songs for the new addition – gathered in Birmingham, Alabama to sing the proposed selections for the new book.  Hugh McGraw served

1978, Image of Holly Springs Community singing Sacred Harp

Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church

Each year, on the first Sunday (and the Saturday before) in June and again on the first Sunday of November, Sacred Harp singers gather at Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church for an all-day singing out of the Sacred Harp hymnbook.  The singings regularly draw visitors from across the United States,