Click here for audio recordings of Sacred Harp singings recorded by John Quincy Wolf.
John Quincy Wolf, Jr. began studying Sacred Harp music in the 1950s. He recorded over sixty Sacred Harp singings in northern Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s, using this research as the basis for two articles about the Sacred Harp that appeared in the Mississippi Folklore Register and the Journal of American Folklore. Wolf's articles shed new light on the impression given by George Pullen Jackson in his 1933 study White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands. Jackson had claimed that Sacred Harp singings were rare in the upland South, and Wolf showed that they were, in fact, very popular in many northern Mississippi communities. "Sacred Harp singing in Mississippi is in no immediate danger of rapid decline or extinction," Wolf wrote in the Journal of American Folklore in 1968. "Though a few communities appear to be losing interest, others are holding firm or gaining. Most of the singings are well attended, and a radio station in Houston, Mississippi, gives weekly broadcasts."
Wolf's notes provide a vivid portrait of a Sacred Harp singing. This was later revised, and appeared in his JAF article:
One of the last singings that I have attended was held at a typical rural church in northeast Mississippi, a small one-room building on a gravel road. One of the members of the church told me that his grandfather had attended annual singings there on the same Saturday in May in 1874. These meetings serve as a kind of homecoming for the people of the community, for their kin from near and far, and for other natives living elsewhere who return to home church of their childhood. As the hundred or hundred and fifty people gather, I realize for them the present is colored by the past, that in a sense this is a memorial day. As the singing gets under way, men and women arise at intervals and call for the favorite songs of their parents and grandparents. An aged woman asks that "Repentance" be sung in memory of her father, who took part in the annual singings at this church for more than fifty years. A man half-choking with emotion remarks that this is his forty-first annual singing and that he has never heard more beautiful music than during the last two hours. The various leaders of the songs frequently call attention to the words. During the intermission for dinner a woman tells me with pride that the Sacred Harp is the only book in which every song is based on a passage of Scripture, and her husband remarks that this is "inspired" music and that it belongs on the shelf right next to the Holy Bible. He adds that "it is a good part of our livin' here in the hills." Later as I look from face to face of the singers and listen to their whole-hearted participation, I realize that Sacred Harp singing is an expression of the highest and noblest thoughts and feelings of which these people are capable -- of what they believe and love and are in their best moments; in short, that perhaps more than anything else it is an expression of their total ideals and total sensibilities.- From the papers of J.Q. Wolf.
Sacred Harp singings recorded by John Quincy Wolf
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Salem Church near Fulton, Mississippi. Recorded November 19, 1961
Click on song title to view lyrics
Good Old Day *AUDIO*
The Happy Sailor *AUDIO*
Happy Sailor *AUDIO*
Homeward Bound *AUDIO*
Idumea First *AUDIO*
Love Divine *AUDIO*
Mt. Vernon *AUDIO*
New Jordan *AUDIO*
Pleyel's Hymn *AUDIO*
Pleyel's Hymn *AUDIO*
Sardis First *AUDIO*
Weary Pilgrim *AUDIO*
World Unknown *AUDIO*