Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Sacred Harp Echoes Through the Hills of Itawamba County

Every Fourth Sunday in July the beautiful sounds of Sacred Harp are heard through the eastern hills of Itawamba County at the annual Cherry Tree Singing at James Creek Primitive Baptist Church.

Sacred Harp has been sung throughout Itawamba County since the founding days of the county. Considered America’s earliest music, the early roots of this music have been traced to the “country parish music” of the early 1700’s in England.

During the mid-1700’s, the styles of English country parish music were introduced to America in the hymnal, Urania, published during 1764. This led to the publication of The New England Psalm Singer. These works form a major part of Sacred Harp.

The book used by many singers in the South, The Sacred Harp, was first published during 1844 and consists of hymn tunes, psalms, and anthems by late 18th and early 19th Century New England composers who were influenced by 18th Century English rural church music and early 19th Century Southern folk hymns and spirituals.

Singing schools and shaped note singing prospered during the early 19th Century as a popular form of recreation in the Southern frontier.

In Sacred Harp singing, the participants sit in a hollow square formation with one voice part on each side with all participants facing inwards. All singing is done without the use of musical instruments. Many have said the words, The Sacred Harp, refer to the human voice.

My great grandfather, Marion Albert Cockrell (pictured) was a Sacred Harp song leader in Itawamba County from the 1880’s until his death during 1944. He had come to Itawamba County with his family as a young man from the hills of northeastern Alabama. In Itawamba County he led singings at the Court House in Fulton, New Home Baptist Church east of Fulton and at Oak Grove Methodist Episcopal Church South, west of the Tombigbee River. The singing at Oak Grove was known as the Marion Singing, named in his honor.

Sacred Harping singing is an important part of the cultural heritage of America that goes back to the founding days of the colonial period. And in the beautiful hills of Itawamba County, this wonderful unique music that has been heard in the county since the founding days, still echoes through the rural hills and hollows of Itawamba County from the little white-frame James Creek Primitive Baptist Church.

Learn More About Sacred Harp

Awake, My Soul: The Story of The Sacred Harp

The Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Assocation

Sacred Harp Singing

Sacred Harp Resources

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