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12.08.02 Steel, David Warren and Hulan, Richard H., The Makers of the Sacred Harp, published in 2010

Our Review

A little known book among Southern scholars, The Makers of the Sacred Harp (University of Illinois Press, 2010), gives a detailed historiographical essay about shape note singing, a list of significant figures, songs, songbook publishing companies, and perhaps most interesting for Southern historians, an appropriate discussion about the importance of Singin’ Billy. Authored by David Warren Steel and Richard H. Hulan, this book is the most detailed and scholarly to date on the subject of shape note singing. Steel and Hulan’s bibliography alone should be on the shelf of any serious student of Southern history and culture. 

For further information on the subject of Mountain Music, see the essay by Alan James Harrelson at 21.05.01.

Of this work the publisher, The University of Illinois Press, writes:

“This authoritative reference work investigates the roots of the Sacred Harp, the central collection of the deeply influential and long-lived southern tradition of shape-note singing. Where other studies of the Sacred Harp have focused on the sociology of present-day singers and their activities, David Warren Steel and Richard H. Hulan concentrate on the regional culture that produced the Sacred Harp in the nineteenth century and delve deeply into history of its authors and composers. They trace the sources of every tune and text in the Sacred Harp, from the work of B. F. White, E. J. King, and their west Georgia contemporaries who helped compile the original collection in 1844 to the contributions by various composers to the 1936 to 1991 editions.

“The Makers of the Sacred Harp also includes analyses of the textual influences on the music–including metrical psalmody, English evangelical poets, American frontier preachers, camp meeting hymnody, and revival choruses–and essays placing the Sacred Harp as a product of the antebellum period with roots in religious revivalism. Drawing on census reports, local histories, family Bibles and other records, rich oral interviews with descendants, and Sacred Harp Publishing Company records, this volume reveals new details and insights about the history of this enduring American musical tradition.”