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12.08.01 Walker, William (Singin’ Billy), The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, published in 1835

Notes Concerning the Author

Born in 1809 in South Carolina, William Walker grew up near Spartanburg and early became devoted to the Welsh Baptist Church of his ancestors and to the musical heritage that church had brought to early America. Walker became a singing master, and Southern Harmony was compiled for his students in hundreds of singing schools all over North and South Carolina and Georgia and in eastern Tennessee.

Our Review

Shape note singing is one of the earliest forms of original American music, and pivotal to understanding the history of mountain culture. During the antebellum period, South Carolina native William Walker (Singin’ Billy) became an instrumental figure in the evolution of shape-note singing. Walker’s The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion gained initial publication in 1835. It is still in print today by the University Press of Kentucky, and serves as a major source of shape note studies. 

For an essay by Alan James Harrelson titled, “Some Thoughts on the Study of Mountain Music,” go to 21.05.01.

Availability of this Work

We recommend the reprint by The University Press of Kentucky, published in 1993, which contains a CD which presents performances of many of the songs.  Of this the publisher writes:

“Southern Harmony reached Kentucky in the company of music-loving pioneers, and today an annual singing in Benton, Kentucky, remains the only such occasion on which Southern Harmony is consistently the source of the music. The CD included with the book contains 29 tunes, hymns, psalms, odes, and anthems, including ‘New Britain’ (Amazing Grace), ‘Happy Land,’ ‘O Come, Come Away,’ ‘Wondrous Love,’ and many, many more.”