44 & 45 “Rocky Road” and “Present Joys” by Alabama Sacred Harp Singers


December 5, 2010 by gadaya

“Rocky Road”

“Present Joys”

After the two tracks by Rev. J.M. Gates that aimed to recreate on record the atmosphere of a Southern black Baptist Church, comes two tracks in a row by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, one of the early Sacred Harp groups that appeared on disc. Like the previous selections by the Baptist preacher, Sacred Harp  is a style of religious singing that is a bit odd to hear on a record, cut from his natural environment and his communal atmosphere. These examples of folk religious music, and especially Sacred Harp, were a truly interactive act between members of a congregation, not a performance aimed at a listening audience.

-For a complete history of Sacred Harp, there’s already a whole lot of internet pages that describes in lenght this beautiful tradition. You can start by the wikipedia page or go directly to Fasola.org “The” web resource for all things related to Sacred Harp singing and eventually find a community next to  your home if you want to participate yourself. Over the last years, a big revival of Sacred Harp is taking place in the U.S and not only in the South, where the tradition never died out, but in every state one can find gatherings of old and young people addicted to this very unique communal singing experience.

-The Alabama Sacred Harp Singers heard on the Anthology was a small group led by various Alabama singers including Paine Denson, A. Marcus Cagle, “Uncle Dock” Owen, Whitt Denson and J.C. “Cadd” Brown. The Alabama region was a historic place for the preservation of shape-note singing in the South and members of the Denson family were important figures of the tradition. (On this page, read an article about The Denson family of Alabama)

-Here are two other recordings by The Alabama Sacred Harp Singers:

“Religion is a fortune”


-Folklorist Alan Lomax, with the help of Georges Pullen Jackson, went on a recording trip to Fyffe, Alabama in 1942 to record the Alabama Sacred Harp Convention for the Library of Congress in Washington. Lomax would return to Fyffe in 1959 during his “Southern Journey”, with a better equipement that allowed him to record in stereo and restitute with better accuracy  the incredible power of Sacred Harp singing.

“Wondrous Love” (1942 recording)

“Northfield” (1942 recording)

“Sardinia” (1959 recording)

“I’m on my journey home” (1959 recording)

-For more fine recordings of Sacred Harp, I recommend the following discs: “I Belong To This Band-85 years of Sacred Harp recordings” on Dust-To-Digital, “Religion is a Fortune” on County Records, and on Rounder “Sacred Harp Singing” (The 1942 LOC recordings) and Volume 9 Volume 10 of Alan Lomax’s Southern Journey”. There’s also a nice documentary called “Awake My Soul-The Story of Sacred Harp” available on dvd.

-As a bonus I offer you to listen the Rounder lp called “The Social Harp” which features songs from another historical shape-note book. (I ripped the vinyl version but didn’t cut the sides as the tracks are short and i thought it was better to hear them all in a row-A digital or cd version is available for purchase on Amazon)

Side A:Singing-school pieces

Side B:Camp-meeting and revival spirituals

Click here to download the booklet in pdf format

Click here to download all the mp3 tracks of this post


6 thoughts on “44 & 45 “Rocky Road” and “Present Joys” by Alabama Sacred Harp Singers

  1. Steve Mullen says:

    This music is so powerful & joyful, almost physically overpowering in its onslaught of sound. Thank you for the excellent background & further references. I use the Lomax recordings in a class I teach on ‘America’s Musical Roots’ at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and my students are always blown over by the sound of these voices. It is great to see the resurgence in interest. Not surprising, however. It is a thoroughly communal experience, and for a culture that is increasingly cut off from the world by their laptops, a welcome reconnection. Thanks!

  2. Jeff G says:

    Steve, in case you weren’t aware: Chicago hosts one of the nation’s largest annual Sacred Harp singing conventions, this year on Memorial Day weekend at the University of Chicago. I’ve sung there many times, and it’s a beautiful location with vibrant acoustics that draws hundreds of singers every year.


  3. jakob says:

    Hi there, I loved sacred harp but I only have a few LP’s and no means to upload them to my computer and listen to it o the go and the mediafire upload is down, there a chance you can reupload the collection you have here?

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